Phone-based Net appliance debuts in Oz

Australia's first phone-based Internet appliance is about to burst onto the IT channel landscape.

The announcement yesterday by the self-dubbed "network-centric technology company" i on australia (IOA) that it and Ericsson will release the iPhone at next week's combined Networld Interop Comdex event in Sydney at last opens the doors of the Internet market to the channel masses.

"While lots of vendors have been talking about it, we are the first to make such an Internet appliance commercially available," claimed IOA director Giora Friede.

And the good news for the channel is that the Ericsson/IOA joint venture has appointed IT distributor Tech Pacific to launch the product, with retailer Strathfield Group being the first to take it on.

According to IOA, the iPhone combines an Internet-telephone appliance with a touch screen, a laptop-sized keyboard and a 56Kbps modem, allowing users to communicate by phone or by e-mail.

Instead of using the device as a Web browser, it is intended to be used for accessing selected services such as weather, white pages, entertainment and other customisable applications, Friede explained.

"Users can browse the Web, conduct electronic transactions such as online shopping, access online white pages and yellow pages, read up-to-the-minute news and sports scores, check stock quotes, and book movie and theatre tickets," he said.

The technology behind the device is licensed in Australia to IOA by Infogear Technology, a US company that developed a suite of client and server software for use on the Ericsson iPhone. Friede claimed that there will be many other products coming out using the software.

"This will power other appliances, and we will support them, including content aggregation. Just like mobile phones, retailers will create customised bundles with telcos and ISPs," he said.

The opportunity for resellers extends to more than just retailers. Friede claimed they were already working with vertical markets, including a bank, which he said will provide a customised iPhone to customers. And with analysts predicting a huge growth in Internet appliances, the IT channel is well positioned to take up the running.

For IOA, though, being first to market was a key advantage. "We want to ensure we establish a leadership position in this market," Friede boasted.

The Ericsson iPhone is currently retailing at Strathfield stores for $899, but is expected to be available at many more retail outlets shortly.