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i-opener - A Market Begging For A Product

Mar 30, 2000, 03:21 (13 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Rip Linton)

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By Rip Linton

With the introduction of the i-opener, Netpliance has created a huge market. The early versions of this machine, which is sold as an Internet appliance, were easily hacked. Addition of a hard drive, standard keyboard and mouse allowed the units to run operating systems, like Linux or Windows, in a compact package with a lot of power. The initial price of $99.00 coupled with this created a run on the units in the stores and a backlog of orders for them.

The low price was based on the idea that the units would be used in conjunction with Internet service provided by Netpliance. Netpliance is looking to make their profits from the continuing revenue of the Internet service. This marketing strategy has proven its self with other products, such as cellular telephones, so certainly it can work.

By not tying the purchase of the units to a contract for the service, Netpliance has already missed out on a lot of profit potential. Now, in an effort to stem the flow, the i-opener has been changed so the currently known hardware modifications will not work. Netpliance has added a clause on their web site, http://www.netpliance.com, that by purchasing the unit you agree to use their Internet service at $21.95 per month. They also state that modifying the unit is a violation of their terms and conditions. I was not able to locate, on their site, any reference to how long the service agreement must be maintained.

A quick check, on the online auction sites, shows that the market for the hack-able version is very much alive. The prices have been rising on the older units, and is currently in the $350 range. I predict that they will settle in around $400 very soon.

I think the real potential of the i-opener is much greater than Netpliance can imagine. If the units were sold with standard PS/2 style keyboard and mouse ports, a standard IDE cable as an option and mounting brackets for a hard drive they could be at the forefront of the compact PC market. This unit would fill the gap between palm type devices and laptops. Many times I have wished for a compact device that would allow me to run VNC connections to my home machines with a full size keyboard. Price the i-opener at the $350 to $400 range and include one year of service with it. Then offer an in-store rebate to people who sign up for a three year service contract, much like the rebates that one can get on products by agreeing to sign-up for a set number of months with other service providers. Don't worry about whether or not people run other operating systems on them. If someone chooses not to use the year of service then Netpliance still has that revenue. If the service will work with standard PPP dialup connections, Netpliance will gain subscribers. Put the units out with a GPL type license so that modifications will come back to the community and Netpliance gains a lot of hardware and software work at no cost to them. Once the units are out, a lot of the standard units will be sold by people who recommend them to friends and family members who are not on the Internet yet and need something simple.

On a positive note, Netpliance is aware of the demand for the open version of the i-opener. At http://www.netpliance.com/devcorner/ they acknowledge this. This page also shows that they are looking at doing something to meet the demand soon. Netpliance has set up an email address at devcorner@netpliance.com for those of us who are interested in this program. If you are interested, please send them an email and let them know what you think.

The only drawback, Netpliance will have to ramp-up the production to keep up with the demand. If they don't do it fast, someone will.

Rip Linton is a retired electronic engineer who specialized in low voltage control and communication systems. Rip now owns a consulting company that provides programming services to solve cross platform communication problems. Rip also works with several organizations that monitor proposed laws, related to the electronic and computer system industries, and provide information and recommendations to legislators and lobbiest.

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