LAS VEGAS, November 15, 1999 — Imagine sitting at your kitchen table in the morning and being able to look up a recipe online, send email messages to your kids, and access late-breaking, personalized news-all on a device as simple to use as your toaster. Or imagine sitting in your favorite chair in the living room and being able to order that book you’ve been meaning to read, access your up-to-the-minute stock portfolio, and send digital pictures to your family and friends-all with the click of a button.
A new class of non-PC devices, called Web Companions, promises to make this vision a reality. These small-scale Internet-access devices, which are designed to provide consumers with low-cost, plug-and-play access to the Internet, hold great potential to be a hot trend in the PC-plus era. According to Cyber Dialogue Inc., a market research firm specializing in strategic analysis of Internet consumer trends, one in three adults in the United States wants an alternative to the PC for getting on the Web. In addition, market research firm Dataquest Inc. predicts more than 11.4 million Internet-access devices will be sold in the United States alone by 2001.
Web Companions are likely to appeal to a significant number of people who don’t use PCs because of their perceived complexity or cost, but are interested in finding out what the Internet is all about. Microsoft research estimates 45 million households in the United States don’t use a PC, yet 11 million of them want Internet access.
At COMDEX/Fall ’99 today, Microsoft and industry-leading hardware manufacturers (called OEMs) stepped up to the plate early by unveiling MSN-based Web Companions, a line of simple, fun and low-cost devices that deliver instant access to the Internet. Designed for people who want an easy and affordable way to surf the Web, communicate with others and accomplish everyday tasks online, MSN-based Web Companions are a new breed of Internet-access device designed to deliver the same rich Internet experience that a PC provides, but in a lightweight, streamlined non-PC device.
With these devices, users aren’t supposed to have to make any decisions about Internet service providers, bandwidth or operating systems. They are designed to work, right out of the box. Only two wires need to be connected to the device — the power cord and the phone line — and MSN-based Web Companions are pre-configured to work instantly. They have no hard drive and don’t support any offline applications such as word processing or spreadsheets.
Powered by the Microsoft Windows CE operating system and the MSN network of Internet services, MSN-based Web Companions power on as quickly as a television, log on to the Internet automatically using the MSN Internet Access service, and connect users to MSN.com services and the Web at large. Because they focus on a small number of specific functions, they are nearly bulletproof. And Microsoft and leading OEMs will periodically send free updates that automatically download to the devices via the Internet, so they are also maintenance free.
“The MSN-based Web Companion puts choice in the hands of consumers, by offering a simple solution for getting online quickly and easily,” said Jon DeVaan, senior vice president of Microsoft’s consumer and commerce group. This announcement today is further evidence of MSN’s commitment to our Everyday Web vision, whereby people are empowered to make the most of the Web anytime, anywhere, and from any device.”
Same Feel, Different Look
MSN-based Web Companion has received early support from OEM partners, including Acer Inc., Philips Electronics, Thomson Consumer Electronics and Vestel USA, companies that are designing the hardware that will house Microsoft’s software and Internet services. Because the device is an integrated end-to-end management platform, it frees OEMs from having to harness individual components such as client and server software, Internet access and back-end services-all of which can be significant barriers to building a Web companion device. The streamlined browser-based platform is designed to set the stage for hardware innovation, freeing OEMs to focus on differentiation and delivering highly functional Web companions to consumers.
Each hardware vendor will undoubtedly produce MSN-based Web Companions that have a different look from others. For instance, some will be flat and others will provide a monitor with a wireless keyboard. Regardless of their form, all MSN-based Web Companions will provide the same user experience. The browser-based platform features a simplified one-screen interface so that users don’t have to toggle between views or keep track of different windows on the screen. And the navigation bar has pared-down, easy-to-find controls such as “home” and “email.”
Because they are small and lightweight, MSN-based Web Companions can be used in any room of the house or on the road. You might use one in the bedroom, for example, to send last-minute emails to friends or family before turning off the light for the night, or to send yourself a reminder that you’ll receive at work the next morning. Grandparents who travel a lot, on the other hand, might take these devices with them on their sojourns to report the day’s activities back to their families in email or to keep up on the news – from their hometown and around the world – whenever it’s most convenient for them.
One-Step Closer to Microsoft’s Vision of the Everyday Web
MSN-based Web Companions, along with existing Microsoft services such as MSN Mobile and WebTV, underscore Microsoft’s commitment to its “Everyday Web” vision, which involves transforming the Web from an inefficient medium to a highly personalized place to get things done — from any place, at any time, and from any device
This vision is centered on Microsoft’s portal Web site, the MSN.com network of Internet Services, which focuses on helping people better organize the Web around what’s important to them. Located on the Web at MSN.com ( http://MSN.com/ ), the service offers award-winning e-mail functionality; an online community; a Web-search service; online shopping and personal finance; customizable access to news and information; and popular sites for travel, health, careers and other relevant content. By establishing MSN.com as the focal point for this vision, Microsoft hopes to move beyond today’s Internet to deliver the Everyday Web-which the company defines as the next-generation Internet that enables everyone to harness the full power of the Web and makes common activities such as shopping, paying bills and running errands significantly easier online.