Starting in late November, Gateway's new Connected Touch Pad home Internet appliance is slated to make its debut in the US. The new embedded Linux based consumer webpad device is but one aspect of a broad initiative known as the "Gateway Connected Home." The intent is to provide an easy way interconnect PCs and other devices within the home at broadband speeds (more on this later), and through a partnership with America Online to provide a broad range of capabilities and services that make the Internet a more central feature of consumers' daily lives.
The following list provides a glimpse of the capabilities and services that Gateway and AOL are planning to offer . . .
- Accessing the Internet from a variety of devices in addition to the PC, extending the medium's convenience into every part of home life;
- Taking advantage of a new customized, "instant-on" version of the AOL service that connects the consumer to AOL as they turn on the device, designed to be used with new appliances that can be located in parts of the home where a PC typically is not;
- Accessing family members' common calendars, address books, and other information across multiple devices;
- Instantly accessing personalized information like news, investment updates, and weather forecasts from any room in the house;
- Creating a centralized, digital music library that's accessible from any room in the house through multiple devices.
The Gateway Connected Touch Pad is a non-portable touch-screen webpad with a 600x800 pixel 10.4" color (DSTN) LCD. The device is preconfigured to offer instant-on access to a suite of AOL services including email, instant messaging, calendar, address book, chat, and full Internet access. The AOL service will also provide easy access to content of particular interest to users in the kitchen or family room -- for example: recipes, grocery and gift ideas, TV and movie listings, online music, etc.
Unlike many other consumer webpads, the Connected Touch Pad is not battery-operated and portable, and therefore can't be conveniently carried about and used from the comfort of an easy chair. Rather, it must be placed on a desk or countertop, or can alternately be mounted beneath a kitchen cabinet. It can be operated in two ways: using a stylus and its touch screen, or with a wireless keyboard (which has convenient function keys for common functions like reading email, listening to music, accessing the calendar, etc.). The device also has a handy scroll wheel, positioned beside its LCD screen, which provides a convenient vertical scrolling mechanism for viewing pages that are longer than the 800x600 pixel display area.
The networking connection to the unit is via either a built-in 56K modem or, when networked with a PC, a broadband Internet connection. When linked with other devices in the Gateway Connected Home, the Connected Touch Pad can take advantage of simultaneous Internet access.
Speaking of the unit's broadband connection, Gateway has addressed the issue of universal high speed in-home networking by adopting the Home Phoneline Network Alliance (HomePNA). HomePNA 2.0 defines a standardized way to transfer data at 10 megabit/sec rates (comparable to 10Base-T Ethernet) over ordinary home telephone cabling.
To simplify networking the systems with PCs and other devices, the Connected Touch Pad will be offered with either of two built-in 10 megabit/sec networking interface: HomePNA, or Ethernet. USB or PCI plug-in card HomePNA adapters for home PCs and other devices, along with the associated networking softare and AOL services, will be available as extra-cost options from Gateway.
Another important feature of the Connected Touch Pad is a pair of music quality speakers and a microphone -- imagine the possibilities!
As far as additional expansion is concerned, the Connected Touch Pad includes a pair of Universal Serial Bus (USB) ports which can initially be used to connect it to an external mouse, keyboard, or printer. Gateway intends to introduce USB support for additional external devices (scanners? CDROM/DVD drives? wireless interfaces? ...?) on an ongoing basis.
The Gateway Connected Touch Pad is based on a 400 MHz Transmeta 3200 microprocessor, running an embedded Linux operating system. Although the Gateway device is not a battery-powered portable unit, its design is derived from Transmeta's reference design for the Crusoe processor. As such, the Connected Touch Pad makes use of Silicon Motion's Lynx EM+ 2D-accelerated graphics controller chip with 2M internal video RAM. System memory consists of 96MB of RAM (which might, by the way, shrink to 64MB). 32MB of nonvolatile CompactFlash storage memory provides internal storage of user information and system state data.
As already mentioned, the system's internal operating system is Mobile Linux, Transmeta's port of Linux to the Crusoe processor. Despite the fact that the Connected Touch Pad is not a battery-operated device, the power management, state-saving features of Mobile Linux are still valuable in keeping the device compact, cool-running, and in providing instant-on operation. For its graphical windowing environment, the system makes use of the open source XFree86 implementation of the X Window System, along with the Gecko browser engine.
When can I get one, and what will it cost?
Gateway is clearly targeting this year's holiday season with its "starting in November" shipment plans. Retail pricing is currently pegged at $599, plus monthly fees for AOL services to operate the device.
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