Microsoft Windows Powered Smart Displays: The Power of a Desktop PC, Without the Cords

REDMOND, Wash., Jan. 7, 2003 — Thomas Byrne has found many uses for his Smart Display. He uses it to answer e-mail, browse the Web and listen to music from various rooms in his house and out by his pool. He’s even used it to lend his next-door neighbor a hand — a clean hand, that is — in a very greasy situation.

A model demonstrates the ViewSonic airpanel V150 Smart Display. Click image for high-res version.

Byrne recently hopped over the hedge to see what kind of progress his neighbor, a motorcycle aficionado, was making on his latest project: converting his new motorcycle into a three-wheeler. The neighbor was knee-deep in grease and having a difficult time setting up the rear axle. A buddy of his could easily step him through the process, he lamented, but he’d have to go into the house, wash up and try to reach him by phone or instant messaging.

Byrne, who happened to have his Smart Display under his arm at the time, powered up the gadget in an instant and, as luck would have it, found that his neighbor’s friend was online. Using instant messaging, they got the answers his neighbor needed within minutes, and were also able to go online and locate the needed parts, pay for them and arrange to have them waiting for pickup at the local motorcycle dealer.

Sound like a wireless laptop? Not exactly. Smart Displays are wireless, touchscreen monitors designed to give consumers the mobility of a handheld computing device without sacrificing any of the power and utility of their desktop PCs. That means users can access the information, applications and services that are available on their Windows XP desktops from any room in their homes. They let you surf the Web from the couch, check e-mail while lying in bed, download recipes in the kitchen, or share digital pictures on the patio.

The first Smart Displays, manufactured by ViewSonic Corp., will be available to consumers in the United States beginning this week. Philips Electronics plans to deliver its desXcape 150DM Smart Display in the U.S. and Europe in the first quarter of 2003. Fujitsu, NEC, and TriGem will have devices available in Asia the first quarter of 2003.

“The idea behind Smart Displays is analogous to the cordless telephone, which lets you walk around the house while still having a phone conversation,” says Todd Warren, general manager of the Microsoft Embedded Appliance Platform Group. “It’s about the evolution of the monitor, freeing you from the constraints of the cable that connects your monitor to your PC so that you can do everyday computing activities from wherever is most comfortable and convenient.”

All in the Family

When he isn’t helping neighbors with motorcycle repair, Byrne, a systems integrator in Methuen, Mass., shares his ViewSonic airpanel v110 Smart Display with his wife and two college-age daughters. Aside from using the Smart Display in his favorite spot — beside the pool — Byrne uses the device in the kitchen and the living room to check his e-mail and browse the Web while spending time with his family.

“What I like best about the Smart Display is that I can use it from any room in our house. We live in old Colonial and have several PCs scattered throughout it, and I can access any of them from any room using the Smart Display,” he says. “I’ve even been able to use it in our neighbor’s garage, right next door to ours.”

Byrne’s wife Cathy uses the Smart Display in the kitchen to do instant messaging and check her e-mail, and on the couch in the living room to play computer games while watching TV. Some of the games she plays are local to her PC, and some she accesses online, often playing against her daughters while they’re away at school. Their youngest daughter Kate uses the Smart Display to download and listen to music, usually at the kitchen table. And Byrne says their older daughter Sarah uses it to research school projects online, settling herself and the Smart Display wherever she can find a quiet, comfy spot in the house.

“I like to sit back and relax when I do research,” Sarah says. “Using the Smart Display works much better than a laptop because it’s lighter and I don’t have to balance it on my lap. Plus, I can send all of my research to the printer without getting up.”

Any Room, Any Time Access

Koi Kennedy has a hard time coming up with places in her house in California’s San Fernando Valley where she doesn’t use her Smart Display. She uses it in the bathroom when she’s getting ready for work, on the couch in the living room, in bed in the evening, in the backyard jacuzzi, and while sitting outside with her dogs.

A busy human resources manager, Kennedy often brings work home with her in the evening and on weekends. “The biggest benefit I’ve found is that after a long day at the office, I don’t have to sit at my computer in my home office all evening,” she says. “I can be in any room of my house or out in the yard using my Smart Display, so I don’t feel like I’m missing out on life.”

Kennedy uses the Smart Display to catch up on e-mail, browse the Web, do instant messaging, and listen to music while she works. She often uses it in the living room beside her partner when he’s watching a football game on TV or when they’re reading in bed in the evening. “I’ve awakened more than once with my Smart Display still cradled in my arms,” says Kennedy. She adds that she has set her Smart Display to automatically power off if she hasn’t used it for more than 10 minutes, so it essentially falls asleep when she does.

Does Kennedy let her partner, Tony Atkinson, use her Smart Display? “No way,” she says. “I use it so much that he rarely gets a chance to do more than check a few sports scores or check the news.” But, she adds, they have used the device together on the couch to design their yard using landscape design software that’s loaded on Kennedy’s PC.

Extending the Windows XP Experience

Smart Displays connect to a PC running Windows XP Professional through an 802.11b wireless connection from up to 100 feet away. To provide the control consumers are used to on their PCs, Microsoft and its partners designed Smart Displays to feature a stylus and touch-sensitive screen, a customizable on-screen keyboard, and writing pad with handwriting recognition. It also supports a wireless or USB mouse and keyboard.

Because Smart Displays connect to desktop PCs, consumers get the benefit of using their own personalized Windows XP settings, custom views and favorites from any room in the house. That means they don’t need to worry about downloading new applications, syncing files or resaving favorites. And while their PCs run in the den or home office, a user can access the Web using the PCs Internet connection service from anywhere around the home, without any new sign-up tasks, fees or hassles.

At first glance, Smart Displays may seem similar to other portable devices like laptops and Internet appliances, but many people inside and out of Microsoft believe they’re a radical departure.

Jed Kolko, senior analyst at Forrester Research, Inc., believes Smart Displays will dramatically redefine the home PC. In a research brief published by Forrester in November 2002, “Smart Displays: The Next PC Revolution Is in View,” Kolko says “… smart displays will change how consumers use PCs as radically as broadband has–broadband makes the Internet always-on; smart displays make the Internet always-here.”

Smart Displays differ from other devices in a number of ways. They’re more portable than laptops in that they’re lighter and don’t require you to balance them on your lap in order to use them. And with no hard drive or fans, Smart Displays are quieter.

“Smart Displays are wireless monitors, whereas laptops are compact, portable computers,” says Byrne. “I carry my Smart Display around the house with me all the time. It’s much more portable and takes up less space.”

Smart Displays can also be less restrictive than flat-panel monitors in that you aren’t restricted to using them within a short cable’s length of your computer. And while they provide many of the same form factor benefits of Internet appliances and Tablet PCs, they deliver the full experience, capabilities and flexibility you get with a Windows XP desktop PC.

Designed to be easy to set up and install, Smart Displays require a computer running Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 1 and an 802.11b wireless adapter, both of which are included with the ViewSonic Smart Displays. Step-by-step wizards walk users through the setup, configuring and troubleshooting the wireless network and adding new users.

“The setup was one of the smoothest and easiest I’ve experienced. I did it myself–the wizards walked me through everything,” Kennedy says.

The Evolution of the Monitor

So where does Microsoft see Smart Displays headed in the future? Todd Warren believes the devices’ portability and versatility represents the next generation of the monitor.

“We foresee this technology being used in many different types of small- and large-screen displays,” says Warren. “Freeing people from the confines of the desktop will change the dynamics of how and where people use their PCs. That’s the fundamental concept behind Smart Displays and what we’re envisioning over the long term.”

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