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Net phone surfs under $500

InfoGear Technology is pushing its Internet telephone as a communications device for accessing information on the Web.

Start-up InfoGear Technology is pushing its Internet telephone as a communications device for accessing information on the Web.

The company's iPhone, which looks like a desktop phone, will be priced at under $500 and will enable consumers to access email, find specific information on the Net, and perform online transactions.

InfoGear has licensed a reference design for the phone to high-end smart phone maker Cidco, which will manufacture and distribute the new device via Internet service providers and phone companies.

Unlike other Internet telephones, iPhone is not designed to make phone calls via the Internet. Instead, it will be used for standard voice calls and as an Internet access appliance.

iPhone includes a small 7.4-inch diagonal touch screen and pull-out keyboard for sending email. Users will navigate using the touch screen. Built into Cidco's first version will be advanced telephone features like call forwarding and conference calls.

Alpha versions of iPhone will be available by year's end, with volume production due by June 1997, according to Robert Marshall, a former Tandem executive and InfoGear's president/CEO.

"We think the way to bring the Web to the masses is through a familiar communications device," Marshall said.

Cidco will market the device to local and long distance phone carriers, Internet service providers, corporations, and vertical industry companies.

Email will be the first popular application, Marshall predicts, but he expects phone carriers that sign up to market the device will create subscription service packages for personal finance, entertainment, local news, and similar services.

iPhone includes two software components: ServerGear and ClientGear. The server piece resides on the ISP's head-end system, working with other email, FTP, and Web server software located on the service providers premises. ServerGear interacts with the Internet on behalf of ClientGear, a real-time operating kernel and InfoGear's own small-footprint Web browser hosted on the iPhone itself.

InfoGear will develop and license other communication-oriented devices with its technology. Likely future products include cellular phones and PDAs (personal digital assistants).

InfoGear's technology was originally developed by National Semiconductor, which decided a consumer device could best be brought to market by a separate company. National Semiconductor licensed the technology to InfoGear, makes the chip sets for iPhones, and has an equity interest in the company.