SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) â€”Gateway Inc. is betting that the next appliance consumers buy for their kitchens will be a computer.
The company is introducing Friday a sleek, touch-screen device called the Connected Touch Pad, designed to offer easy Internet access from a kitchen counter or anyplace else where bulky personal computers usually are shunned.
Gateway's Touch Pad, which works only with Internet service provided by America Online Inc., is the latest entry into the emerging market for so-called Web appliances. It comes with a new interface called Instant AOL, complete with e-mail, instant messaging, a family ``Notepad'' and other Web features, such as recipes, shopping information and TV listings.
The Touch Pad has a 10-inch display that can stand alone or be mounted under a kitchen cabinet. The device comes with a pointer for the touch screen and a wireless keyboard.
The Web appliance market is in its infancy, but computer makers believe it could grow fast.
Compaq Computer Corp. unveiled its iPaq using Microsoft's MSN Internet service in August. Last month, 3Com Corp. unveiled the Audrey, which can connect to the Web through any Internet service provider. Competing appliances are expected also from Sony Corp. and Intel Corp.
``We haven't had a big success in this area yet, and we'll see how this goes. But with the strength of the AOL brand name, Gateway certainly has the best chance yet,'' said Martin Reynolds, an analyst with the Gartner Group research firm.
Gateway officials would not disclose the Touch Pad's price until they make the official product announcement Friday morning in New York. The San Diego-based company originally had planned to unveil the product next week at the big Comdex trade show in Las Vegas.
Like other Web appliances, Gateway's device will target consumers who want Web access without having to operate a PC, which for many seems too complex or time consuming to weave into their everyday lives.
The Touch Pad simply needs to be plugged-in and connected to a phone line. Gateway envisions users checking the Internet for traffic, stock or news reports while brewing a cup of coffee in the morning.
The device, which will use the energy-saving Crusoe microprocessor made by upstart chipmaker Transmeta Corp., can use either a traditional dial-up connection or, when networked with a PC, a high-speed Internet connection.
Gateway also has a strategic partnership with chipmaker Broadcom Corp. to jointly develop products for delivering audio and video content between music players, TVs, PCs, cable modems and Internet appliances.
The Touch Pad appliance will be the first among a series of Gateway's Connected Home products to use Broadcom technology enabling all the devices to interact via existing telephone lines.
Gateway plans to offer demonstrations of the Touch Pad, along with the Gateway Connected Music Player, at its Gateway Country stores beginning next week â€” in time for the Christmas season. It will begin taking orders on Dec. 1 for shipments by Dec. 15 to customers' homes.
Market penetration will be a challenge, Reynolds said.
``The Web appliance is entering a difficult market because 60 percent of American homes already have PCs and may not feel they need another device,'' he said. ``And the homes that are left either don't want to own a PC or can't afford one, or they think a PC might be too complicated.''
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