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Audrey comes in Linen, Slate, Ocean, Meadow and Sunshine

Guess which gender 3Com is targeting?

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3Com finally got to show off Audrey, the first Internet appliance in its Ergo range, in New York today.

The device, which wouldn't look out of place in a line-up of 1950s style kitchen appliances, has a twist-knob at the front for users to access its six pre-set channels, email, calendar and address book.

The idea is similar to Amstrad's em@iler in that there is no need for a lengthy boot-up like a PC, and the device seems relatively idiot-proof. But it also comes with full Internet access and is a little more costly -$499, around $400 more than the em@iler or the same price as a cheap PC.

Audrey comes in a basic white colour, or 'linen' as 3Com calls it, or for an extra $50 punters can grace their homes with the device in 'meadow', 'sunshine', 'slate' or 'ocean'. Emails can be typed via a wireless keyboard, scribbled onto the eight-inch screen using a stylus, or recorded via a voice message.

The device can only be hooked up to two printers, both Canon and costing an extra $79 or $299. 3Com is also plugging the fact that it can sync with up to two Palm handhelds.

Any ISP can be used, except for AOL and MSN. It uses a hybrid QNX/Palm operating system and runs on National Semiconductor's Geode processor.

The channels currently available are ABC News, AccuWeather, ESPN Sports, CBS MarketWatch, MrShowbiz and local information service Digitalcity. Audrey can offer up to 12 channels, and 3Com plans to add more to choose from, including grocery site Peapod and Beauty.com, within the next few weeks.

The 'linen' coloured product is available to US customers from today via 3Com's Website, and via retail and other e-tail outlets later this month. The other pastel shades can only be bought on the Californian company's site. 3Com plans to ship outside the US within a year.

"We are aiming at the nerve centre of the home, and in the US that's the woman," said Don Fotsch, VP and general manager of 3Com's Internet Appliance division.

Fotsch laughed off the blips in Audrey's journey to stardom, which included an unplanned appearance on 3Com's Website and a launch that was a month late.

"Sometimes the [Web] folks make boo-boos," he said.

Gadget-crazed punters can expect the next Ergo treat in Spring 2001. ®

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