Intel will enter the home-appliance market later this year when it plans to release a simplified computer that allows consumers to make telephone calls over the Internet, the company announced recently.
The device will be the first in a family of so-called Internet appliances that Intel plans to offer this year. The Intel-branded products, which will also include a device for online shopping, will be sold through telecommunications companies and other types of service providers, Intel officials said in a statement.
The announcement coincided with the start of the giant Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which featured an array of Internet appliances, as well as digital televisions, handheld computers and just about every other digital consumer gadget imaginable.
Intel's foray into the Net appliance market is only the latest step in a strategy to diversify its revenue base. The company, which is far better known for its PC microprocessors, already offers a videoconferencing system, a slew of networking products and other communications devices.
"We see a significant business opportunity to bring the Internet to new devices in the home," Claude Leglise, an Intel vice president and general manager, said in a statement. Besides the appliances, Intel will offer management technologies and service-package building blocks that carriers and service providers will be able to use to offer services that build on Intel's devices.
The telephony appliance will be available in mid-2000 and will be based on the Linux operating system and use Celeron processors, said Bill Calder, a spokesman for Intel. A prototype of the device looks like a miniature television set with a built-in telephone handset and a keyboard.
The appliance will integrate Internet access with telephony features such as call management and unified messaging, the company said in the statement. Intel has also teamed with telecom operators, Internet service providers and e-commerce retailers around the world to help them deploy new services later this year that will be based on its Internet appliance platform.
In Japan, NEC, which operates the Biglobe ISP, plans to sell the appliances to banks and home users for online trading and banking. In France, Laser-Galeries Lafayette Group will provide consumers across Europe with personalized e-commerce services by working with several retail and services companies, Intel officials said.
The giant chip maker will face plenty of competition when it rolls out its first appliances mid-year. A horde of companies both large and small have announced plans to ship Internet appliances in the coming months, most notably Microsoft and Acer.