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The May 14, 2003 Issue Provided by System Dynamics Inc.
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Broadband Home Labs - Our First "Smart Display"

We first saw a Webpad more than three years ago, and have long believed that these wireless touchscreen devices would play an important role in the broadband home. Now we're testing a ViewSonic airPanel V110 - one of the wireless networking devices based on Microsoft's "Windows-powered Smart Display" technology. Here are our first impressions based on using it for a few days.

The airPanel V110 has a 10" LCD screen with a resolution of 800x600. It has built-in 802.11b wireless networking and works fine with an existing Wi-Fi access point in our home network. For input, it uses a touchscreen with a stylus and also has a "mouse-like" mechanism. It does not have a keyboard--text input is done on an on-screen keyboard and with a handwriting recognition system. It is sold with an optional dock to charge the battery and attach keyboards and/or a mouse.

Smart Displays are not intended to be stand-alone client devices. Instead, they are an extension of the screen of an existing Windows XP Pro PC - they "enable a user to pick up the screen and have the same PC experience in any room" as we said in our article on Smart Displays in BBHR 11/24/2002 .

V110 Smart Display in our kitchen --> Click for larger pictureWe have been using the V110 for three days so far, and have been very impressed with it. It has done nearly everything we expected and some things we didn't think it could do:

  • It's a great extension of the "always on" experience - now we don't have to walk to a PC to get on the Web. We've used it to surf the Web in the kitchen while watching TV and in other places in our house while away from our PCs.
  • We've used it to play music throughout the house from our AudioTron digital audio player and on a headset from Rhapsody.
  • We've used the handwriting input mechanism to make notes.
  • We set it up so we can connect to either of our main PCs.
  • The battery life is good and it works well with our wireless network.

At SCTE Cable-Tec Expo we also had a preview of the V110 running the Nevo home control software from Universal Electronics. With this software, the Smart Display transforms itself into your personal universal remote control. Unlike all the other applications we've used, the Nevo software runs locally on the V110 rather than remotely on the master XP Pro PC. It provides a good example of additional types of applications that will provide value, beyond extending your desktop applications around the home. Nevo will be available in July and is currently free when users buy a ViewSonic display.

Our biggest issue is that a person can be logged into a PC from only one place, either from the PC's main screen or from the Smart Display; logging in on the Smart Display logs off the main screen. This isn't a huge problem for us, since we each have our own PC, but it would be a real problem in a home with only one main PC. Microsoft has just announced that they will be addressing this problem in the fall with a new Windows XP mechanism permitting two users to be logged on simultaneously.

The other real-world issue in buying one of these devices has been the price. The V110 unit we are trialing had been selling for around $1000. However, is listing the product for $799 with a $75 rebate. If this means a newer unit is on its way, it will be interesting to watch the pricing of the next units. Nice as the V110 seems, our personal willingness to pay, and we suspect that of other consumers, is well below the $1000 price point.

Net-net, our initial impression is that this device is well "over the bar"--it works well and its human factors are surprisingly good. We'll provide a full report in the next issue.

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