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Mira device gains new supporters

Microsoft adds four consumer-electronics giants to the stable of companies committed to making the wireless Web tablet.

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Mira finds manufacturers
Keith White, director, Embedded and Appliance Group, Microsoft
Microsoft has added four consumer-electronics giants to the stable of companies committed to making the Mira wireless Web tablet.

Royal Philips Electronics, LG Electronics, Tatung and Trigem will join ViewSonic, NEC, Fujitsu Panasonic and a host of contract manufacturers in line to participate in the development of Mira, a lightweight device with an integrated flat-panel screen for remotely reading Internet content.

Unlike many other Web tablets, Mira actually doesn't function as an independent computer. Instead, it effectively relays data and commands back and forth from a PC via an 802.11 wireless network and Windows CE.Net, the latest version of CE. Letting the PC do most of the heavy lifting saves on battery life.

Mira devices are expected to ship toward the end of the year.

Microsoft designed the device--part of a larger initiative of putting the PC at the center of home entertainment networks--but will leave it to hardware specialists to manufacture and sell.

While many manufacturers will market the device under their own brand name, Tatung of Taiwan and Trigem of Korea will make Mira devices for companies. Microsoft said it planned to announce the new partners Tuesday at the giant CeBit trade show taking place this week in Germany.

"This does to the PC what cordless did to the telephone," said Keith White, a senior director in Microsoft's embedded and appliance unit.

Mira was unveiled by Bill Gates at January's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The device's existence was first reported by CNET

Microsoft hopes to deliver the final version of the Mira software at the end of the summer, so the first devices can ship in time for this year's holiday season. The software is currently in test form with about 250 people. Devices are expected to range in price from $500 to $800, depending on the size of the LCD (liquid crystal display) used in the device.

White said Microsoft has only modest hopes for how many of the gadgets might sell this year, although he declined to predict a number. However, he said the device could eventually find a niche as LCD prices come down and people opt to use a Mira device as their primary monitor. There's a shortage of an essential component in making LCDs, which some say will lead to higher prices of devices using the LCDs.

The price difference between a flat-panel monitor and a Mira device should only be about $150 to $200, White said, basically the cost of adding memory, a processor and wireless card. At that price, he said he can see a significant number of consumers willing to pay the extra money to be able to essentially take their PC with them around the house.

Long term, Microsoft doesn't see Mira limited to tablets. It eventually hopes to see the technology built into televisions, projectors and potentially home appliances. Yes, the Web-connected refrigerator is still on Microsoft's radar screen.