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Sony launches wireless home Net access device

Web pumped throughout your home to Airboard tablet. Cool

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Sony has unveiled a product to bring the Net to the Net-less - a home-oriented mobile device that gives users access to the Net without the need for a PC.

Based on home wireless networking, Sony's Airboard is an LCD screen tablet and base-station combo. The base-station hooks straight into the Net and beams requested Web pages and downloaded media files across the ether to the Airboard.

"Without using a PC, users can access information from anywhere, effectively solving the so-called 'digital divide' problem," Sony Electronics' Shizuo Takashino told a press conference held this morning in Japan, referring to the gap between the Net-connected PC-owning elite and... er... everyone else.

Maybe Airboard will bridge the divide, but for a ¥120,00 ($1100) device, Airboard isn't exactly inexpensive. The device goes on sale in Japan on 1 December.

Airboard will initially appeal to the gadget fanatics and Internet buffs, but it's not hard to imagine Sony promoting it to wider audiences. Takashino described Airboard as a "personal IT television", which is essentially an extension of how Sony views the 21st Century Web: a high-speed digital entertainment delivery service.

Indeed, perhaps Airboard is the Sony digital home product that we all mistook the PlayStation 2 for. PlayStation 2 has often been seen as the device through which Sony would conquer home entertainment, using the console as a gateway to the Net through which movies and music could be pumped into the home.

That role probably hasn't changed, but Sony no doubt realises that not everyone's going to buy into such an entertainment environment through a games console - PlayStation 2 won't really appeal to fiftysomething hi-fi buffs - and that other such gateways are needed.

Enter Airboard, which we note has the potential to be used as a remote control for hi-fi units such as radios, DVD and CD players, VCRs, and the like. Last year, when Palm announced Sony had licensed its Palm OS, we speculated that the consumer electronics giant might consider Palm's UI a good basis for these kind of controller products. We don't know as yet whether Airboard is Palm-based or not - we suspect not - but it certainly shows Sony's thinking. Expect more such product launches over the coming months. ®

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