Screenfridge gets warm reception

Home networking could be driven by the adoption of Web-enabled white goods, if the results of this trial are accurate

A trial co-backed by Swedish mobile firm Ericsson and Scandinavian telco TeleDanmark has found that Internet-enabled kitchen appliances could be popular.

The research set out to assess whether consumers like receiving Internet access and email though household equipment rather than a PC. Fifty families were supplied with a Screenfridge -- a standard fridge that also had a built-in touch-sensitive colour screen and an ADSL connection to the Internet. After four months use, almost 70 percent of households said they were either "satisfied" or "very satisfied" with the Screenfridge.

Details of the trail were made available for the first time at IIR's Home Networks European Congress in London on Wednesday.

This is not the first time that a Web-enabled fridge has been built. Last year South Korean hardware manufacturer LG was demonstrating a refrigerator that could be used to surf the Net and to make videophone calls as well as to store and cool food. The results from TeleDanmark and Ericsson's E2Home are significant though, because they appear to show that users appreciate the added convenience of having information available directly in the kitchen -- where it would be less common to have a PC.

Enthusiasts of home networking believe that, in the not too distant future, many households will have several devices linked to the Web.

Interviews held with the families found that fast, always-connected, Internet access was the Screenfridge's most popular feature -- demonstrating how important the rollout of ADSL services across the UK is -- and most households indicated that ease of use was also important. The project also found that the Screenfridge's appeal was not restricted to certain demographic groups.

"We thought that the Screenfridge would be most popular with families, because they are often the most time-sensitive. We actually found that lifestyle is more important. Many different types of people liked the Screenfridge because it was easy to access information quickly from the kitchen," explained Linda Windmark, consumer knowledge manager for E2Home.

Thirteen content providers were chosen to supply a range of information services to the Screenfridge. The most frequently used applications were information-based services, such as weather, travel and traffic news. Sending email and SMS messages were the second most-popular type of application.

"People really appreciate the accessibility and ease of use. They've told us that even though they have cookery books next to the Screenfridge they still log on to find a recipe. Of course, they can then download the ingredients and add them to their shopping list," said Diane Chayer, project manager for TeleDanmark.

E2Home and TeleDanmark are still processing the results of the trial, but they are already confident there is a commercial market for the Screenfridge. "People have indicated they would be prepared to pay the price of a desktop PC, on top of the cost of a standard fridge. We think they would also pay around 100 euros per month (£63) for content and ADSL access.

No details were available for when, or indeed if, the Screenfridge might go on sale to the public.

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