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Tech Industry

Goodbye Columbus?

Apple's Web-TV-like Net access device unlikely to make it to market this year.

Apple Computer's idea for a radical new convergence device that would marry computers and consumer electronics remains just that, an idea.

In the months following positive reaction to the iMac, Apple's set-top effort--which sources said fell under the broad rubric of "Columbus"--has been shelved in favor of the iMac, according to industry sources.

The easy to use set-top box was slated to combine Internet access functions with DVD or CD playback and connections for digital satellite.

Apple was talking with various companies about its plans, including the See special report:
Apple's Gambit possibility of licensing the design to other manufacturers until about May, but no information on the product has been forthcoming since that time, according to sources who had been briefed by Apple on the set-top project.

However, technology from the set-top box has already found another home: Two separate industry sources indicate that the motherboard, which holds the electronic guts of a computer, is being used in the iMac. The iMac's motherboard is in fact stamped with the name "Columbus" on it.

Apple, as have other PC companies, realizes TV is still the core of household activity. Apple's own public experiments date to at least 1993, when the company offered the first computer with a TV tuner card. The company also partnered with British Telecom to deploy Mac OS-based interactive cable set-top boxes in 1995, but those experiments fizzled as the company ran into financial trouble in 1996.

Business concerns again appear to have factored in the decision to stay away from a market that is largely undefined. To move into new markets and be profitable, computer companies have to radically adjust their business models to support the higher volume sales and lower unit costs of the consumer electronics market, analysts say--something which Apple has decided to forgo.

Analyst Richard Doherty, president of The Envisioneering Group has previously noted that the decision is a reasonable one because Apple essentially bundles in sales of peripherals such as a monitor that it wouldn't get with a set-top device.  

Back to: Apple's gambit