Xircom sets sights on consumer gadgets

Acquisitions of Rex and Entegra take advantage of growing demand for next-generation information devices and peripherals.

Mobile communications specialist Xircom has the consumer firmly in its sights, following Tuesday's acquisitions.

Traditionally Xircom has a corporate focus but yesterday bought up Universal Serial Bus (USB) product manufacturer Entegra -- the leading USB specialist in the consumer market -- as well as Franklin Electronics' Rex product range, a family of consumer information devices. "This is great news for consumers, who are pivotal to these announcements," claimed Michel Corbett, Xircom product marketeer. "We are expanding our corporate vision to home and mobile users."

Corbett said the Entegra purchase would lead to a complete family of PortGear branded USB conversion and expansion products, aggressively priced and available off the shelf from retailers. Xircom believes the USB market will expand rapidly, with 175 million USB PCs and 500 million USB peripherals shipped by 2003.

Buying Rex from Franklin is also of massive interest to the consumer-gadget freak. In the Rex, Xircom is a credit card sized information storage and retrieval device that can be synchronised with handheld, laptop or desktop machines to create a portable reference tool. Xircom said it would develop the Rex into a more secure and usable device over time but is already excited about the next-generation cards it refers to as "unconscious wearable information devices".

Corbett explained: "When you pick up your keys or your watch, it is unconscious, but these are devices you always have with you. The Rex cards aren't designed to be PDA replacements or anything like that, but reference devices that complement those platforms. They will do one thing -- calendaring, task listing, memo referencing -- and do it very well. If you don't want to carry your laptop into every meeting but need a reference guide, the Rex can simply be synced and kept in a shirt pocket."

One side of the Rex card is an LCD, with two simple scroll buttons. Security features will be added in around 90 days through an agreement with Security Dynamics. Future plans could include Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) enablement, Web-clipping, or even Bluetooth connectivity. "We'll try and add everything that's do-able," said Corbett.

Franklin had previously sold the Rex in US high-street shops for around $199 (£124). Xircom's pricing structure is yet to be set.