When IBM uses the word "cheap" to describe the price range it is targeting for a new range of network- and Internet-attached personal devices, it has to represent a directional shift for the vendor's personal systems group (PSG).
Recognising the changing nature of computer usage and Internet accessibility, IBM PSG is looking beyond the keyboard and terminal for a slice of the action from new age hardware linking clients to networks.
Launching an initiative in the Asia-Pacific region which it has titled EoN (Edge of the Network), John Callies, a US-based IBM systems vice president, said the market is "evolving from personal computing to optimised computing" for a "simplified computing experience".
"We have spent a lot of time understanding the Internet space," he said. "What people are after are simple, elegant devices offering instant and secure access to the Internet - and IBM will be there.
"We are aiming [for the EoN devices] to be cheap," Callies explained. "The first devices will be coming to market during Q2 of 2000 and they are to be sold through new affiliations with ISPs, ASPs and telcos - basically anyone who wants to sell hardware upon which their services will run."
Despite talking of distribution through "new channels", the globally-focused Callies said traditional resellers will still be in the picture.
However, he added that it will also be using "IBM direct selling capabilities - maybe fulfilled through business partners but the interaction will be with IBM".
The products are going to be customisable with costs reduced through only supplying componentry necessary to do the job the devices are needed for. As examples of how prices will be minimised, Callies explained how thin- client devices don't need expensive processors or how network-attached devices to be connected and used for specific functions will only need one port.
He also conceded that "distribution cost becomes a major factor in the price end users have to pay" and that manufacturers going direct can cut out some of that.
He said the overall costs can be reduced if the distributor is also the service provider which is encouraging the vendor to open up new channels.
While Callies conceded that IBM will not necessarily come up with "unique configurations" for the Aus-tralian market, he said the demographics of the local market matched sections of North American and European markets closely.
It would appear the reseller is still important though. "In places like Australia, we are a lot more dependent on value-added resellers to customise these products because of the individual characteristics of different industries and approaches to technology."
He said there will be many opportunities for resellers to configure and supply the products for their market niches but agreed that online would be the obvious place for these devices to be marketed.
"Value-added resellers are critical to IBM's success with EoN," Callies continued. "We desperately need them to participate in this new technology so we can apply it to the needs of each of the geographies. With what we are trying to do here, one size definitely doesn't fit all."
As a part of its total e-business vision, Big Blue wants to be in all areas of what is highly opportunistic space, Callies said. It clearly sees new age personal devices as playing a significant role in both B2B and B2C e-commerce.
As well as service providers, IBM is also planning for the products to get to market via partnerships with independent software developers and Web-based direct sales.
Callies also revealed there will be an as yet undisclosed new brand name to serve as an umbrella on these new hardware poductsIncluded amongst the new products will be smartcards, devices for motor vehicles, handhelds, appliance servers, thin-client information consoles and other communications devices. They are to be developed, manufactured and marketed by Big Blue, but not always with IBM branding.
"IBM used to just maximise revenues and market share with personal systems," Callies said. "Now we will be aiming more at simplifying the end-user computing experience. We want to concentrate on how devices will be used rather than just supplying the latest technology.
"We have taken the approach that we are just going to bring to market those things that we know but with a focus on customer requirements."