Acorn Computer Group, the company responsible for developing the network computer specification for Oracle, will launch what it claims is the world's first NC, NetStation, in London today.
NetStation will be launched in the US on June 25, and will be ready for volume shipment in October, according to Hermann Hauser, cofounder and head of research at Acorn. He told delegates at the Venture Markets Europe conference here yesterday that the product will be targetted at consumers and marketed by two new Acorn spinoff companies: NChannel in Europe, and NetChannel in the US. While NetStation will cost below US$500 in the US, it will be slightly more costly in the UK at around US$598 or £399. Acorn is only producing one model, which will be sold through the consumer electronics retail channel.
Internet connections for the NCs will be provided by local ISPs (Internet service providers) under NetChannel and NChannel umbrella brands.
"When they buy the NC, customers will be given a smart card," says Hauser. "The card will store user information such as email address and customer preferences. All the customer has to do is plug the NC into the power for electrons, a telephone line for bits, and a TV for photons," he says. The customer can then use their smart card in any NC-compliant product in the world and send or receive email or access their own documents, according to Hauser. When the customer switches on the NC, it will dial a 1-800 number and log-on to the internet automatically.
"The customer will then tell the NC who they are, and what their interests are, and the information will be stored to their smartcard," says Hauser. "We will lead them to the Internet sites which they may find most interesting." Targetting the right customer with the right information is crucial to the success of the product, according to Hauser.
NetStation will connect to the Internet over a 28.8kbit/s modem and can be controlled from either an infrared-attached keyboard or a TV remote control. The product will give users the ability to compose documents, send and receive email messages and surf the Net.
NetStation will be manufactured in the Far East, according to Hauser, who has just returned from a tour of Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan where he has been in discussions with hardware manufacturers, he says.
The Holiday Inn hotel group has already expressed interest in putting NetStations into its hotel rooms, Hauser says.
Acorn, based in Cambridge, England and partly owned by Olivetti SpA of Italy, in January announced an agreement with Oracle to develop reference designs for a range of network computing products. The following month Acorn set up a network computing division to codevelop the NC specification with Oracle.