IBM announces chips for Internet appliances

IBM Corp. has announced a new line of chips intended to support Internet appliances – Internet-connected, low-power consumer devices that are more portable and flexible than traditional PCs. The move continues the push IBM and other developers are making into the beyond-the-PC space known as “pervasive computing.”

The IBM PowerPC Internet Appliance Platform (IAP) is designed to bring technology traditionally offered to the company’s high-end customers down to the consumer level, allowing device manufacturers to design customized chips quickly and inexpensively, said IBM spokesperson Michael Loughran.

IBM plans to control costs by assembling most of the PowerPC IAP in advance, building in the basic functions – such as LCD (liquid crystal display), memory drivers and touch-screen support – required for most consumer Internet devices. Manufacturers will be able to add flourishes such as encryption and voice-recognition capabilities.

Pricing for the chips will vary, but Loughran said the company is aiming for about US$60. IBM is currently working with some half-dozen companies interested in the technology, and Loughran said that several customers intend to begin using the chips by the end of the year. He declined to name the companies, but said that the majority are Japanese consumer device manufacturers. The PowerPC IAP will be available worldwide.

IBM hailed the new chips’ potential to support a variety of new devices, with a wide range of shapes and functions. The company said its pervasive computing efforts include research into reducing power consumption by mobile, wireless appliances to support increased battery life and an array of power-intensive features like speech recognition.

The Internet appliances sector has been foundering lately, with a number of high-profile failures such as 3Com Corp.’s Audrey, killed shortly after its splashy launch, and Virgin Entertainment Group Plc’s Webplayer, which lasted less than three months last year.

But Loughran said IBM is undeterred by the sector’s recent shakiness. “We see the Internet appliance market as a growth opportunity.”

– IDG News Service

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