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A TiVO for radio.. and Palms become WebPads

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Comdex Comdex never fails to provide a slew of optimistic hardware prototypes that you can bet will never see the light of day.

But we were impressed by Simple Devices, the tiny Casio-backed design start-up, which has piled more ideas into its demonstration hardware than the rest of the gadgets (we've seen so far) can muster between them.

Simple Devices is showing three consumer appliances, all of which piggyback the HomeRF wireless standard, a rival to the 802.11 specs used in business wireless LANs and in Apple's AirPort, but with much richer support for voice communication. And all three devices too use a PC - or a cheap embedded server - to cache content. So far, so samey.

But soft. SD has a surfeit of good ideas - not of all of which will stick. However, co-founder Craig Janik's track record in design at Speck and Ideo does make the difference between Heath Robinson-punt and some products with real utility.

The SimpleFi does for Internet or AM/FM radio what TiVO does for broadcast TV. It also plays your MP3s, using HomeRF as the wireless backbone. The content is cached on the PC and the device also fetches and broadcasts your MP3 files from the machine's hard disk. Simple Devices is aiming for a $150 price for the unit.

We weren't so sure about the company's SimpleClock - billed as an Internet-enabled alarm clock. It's really a hi-fi but with a visual display and, curiously, the ability to sync your Palm.

The chaps also have an intriguing Palm clip-on which turns the humble PDA into a DECT phone or Web pad, by streaming data and voice over the HomeRF link. This doesn't weigh much more than the Palm itself, and allows synchronisation of Palms across a wireless LAN, and cell-broadcasts to suitably-equipped Palms too.

Plenty of ideas looking for a home here, and with a dozen staff, SD is hardly in a position to roll over the Sonys just yet. But one to watch, for sure.

Compaq, Siemens and Intel are also showing HomeRF hardware at Comdex. ®

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