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Audrey in the Kitchen

An overview of 3Com's Audrey kitchen internet appliance.

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One of the ideas that gets pushed around every few years is the "dumb terminal", a barebones computer system that has just enough power to serve as an interface to a remote server that actually runs all the programs the user sees.

A more practical variant on this idea is the "internet appliance", a machine powerful enough to run common internet tasks like email, web browsing, view videos, without needing the power and flexibility that a normal computer needs to perform all its tasks.

With this in mind, 3Com released the Audrey in 2000. It was also literally an 'appliance', as it was meant for use in the kitchen. It came in colors meant to match common kitchen decorating, and would mount on the underside of a cabinet. The plan was for later models to be released for use in other rooms.

Owners could type email using a small, infrared keyboard, use a stylus to write on the screen, or record a voice messages. Also, it could synch with up to two Palm handhelds.

However, the dot-com crash forced 3Com to cancel their plans for the line, and suspend service to the existing Audrey owners after a mere seven months. 3Com, did, however refund the price of the units.

The failure of the Audrey reflected the problems inherent in the idea. Its list price was $499 dollars for something less capable than an even cheaper low-end PC, a price driven up by the need for custom software, and an expensive touch-screen. It was a well-thought-out attempt, but did not match what the market wanted.

Both the creation and the cancellation were part of general trends, with other devices having come and gone in much the same manner at the same time. Even while products were being cut, supporters suggested that they would become more popular as broadband internet became more available, however the concept remains a curiosity eight years later.