Honeywell unveils wireless Web appliance

Web appliances put the Internet on a simpler, more stable device that can be put in any room of the house. Honeywell Inc. takes the concept one step further with its WebPAD, a wireless Internet appliance you can roam the house with.

Now available from, the WebPAD wirelessly accesses a home broadband connection via a base station, which plugs into a digital subscriber line or cable modem. National Semiconductor provided its Geode WebPAD platform for the touch screen device, which uses Proxim’s wireless RF technology to communicate with a base station at a rate of 1.5 megabits per second and a range of 150 feet. While wireless connectivity makes the WebPAD a true household-wide surfing device, the $995 price tag plus $185 for the base station pushes the price to that of a PC. But the product is an appliance lacking a hard drive.

Tap Into Windows

The WebPAD comes with Pocket Word for viewing attachments and a virtual keypad into which you can tap letters, says Jay Schrankler, vice president of Honeywell Home Comfort and Systems. “It runs on a version of Windows CE with Internet Explorer as its full and complete browser,” he says.

A 10-inch LCD is the heart of the Web appliance. On it, you can browse by fingertip or use the WebPAD stylus. The device does not support handwriting input like Pocket PC’s Jot or Palm’s Graffiti do, but you can tap on the virtual keypad or even add a keyboard via the Universal Serial Bus port, Schrankler says.

WebPAD has three shortcut buttons: to the virtual keypad, to a Honeywell Portal, and to e-mail at any Web-based mail service, Schrankler says.

Honeywell’s WebPAD uses Proxim’s proprietary wireless RF network technology and has a battery life of about three to five hours. Although the device runs at a similar frequency and rate as HomeRF, Schrankler says, WebPAD doesn’t interfere with existing wireless home networks.

Who Wants It?

Despite the convenience of the WebPAD’s wireless connection, its price tag and complexity may be high for entry-level, PC-shy folks typically targeted by Web appliances. Compaq’s MSN Home Internet Appliance, like Gateway’s upcoming America Online appliance, puts the Web in a device that’s easier to use and maintain than a PC, and even bundles the Internet service provider through rebate offers.

Honeywell’s WebPAD seems aimed at a different customer, one who already has a broadband ISP and wants to extend the Web to other rooms in the home.

For example, you could play interactive “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” on a WebPAD while watching TV, Schrankler says.

“You can even take the WebPAD outside,” he adds. “The browsing experience remains identical to that on a PC hooked to a broadband modem.”

National Semiconductor representatives admit the wireless WebPAD is a high-ticket item. But the company and other partners are crafting similar appliances that better fit consumer budgets.

“Clearly, the full mobile wireless Web tablet is the highest priced segment,” says Camillo Martino, director of marketing for National Semiconductor’s information appliance group. “But other tethered categories are cheaper with no RF and battery pack required.”

Martino says National Semiconductor and its partners are developing a WebPAD that’s a tethered flat-panel device like Virgin’s Net Appliance. Also in the works are budget CRT WebPAD devices that house all the technology in the display, like an iMac.