Sony's given its Airboard personal IT television a new look, improving the screen, giving it more functions and vastly improving the base station. But the firm is firmly distancing it from recent internet appliance failures.
First announced a year ago, the Airboard marries the functions of a television and internet tablet PC into a portable device that is designed to be carried around the home and allow access to TV, audio-visual devices or the internet from anywhere within a 30-metre range of its base station.
The connection between the base and the monitor is via IEEE 802.11b wireless LAN with 40-bit WEP (wireline equivalent privacy) encryption enabled.
The most obvious difference between the new and old Airboard is the shape and size. With a 12.1in SVGA display the device is noticeably larger than the previous model.
Sony has also changed the shape to make it trapezoidal rather than rectangular. Coupled with rubber pads on the rear of the device, this makes it easier to hold than the previous model.
Battery life in the new Airboard has also been improved as a result of complaints from customers, said Sony. Through use of a larger battery, portable life has been extended to approximately that of a notebook computer: up to two hours for television and three hours for internet use.
To date, the largest group of customers for the Airboard has been the over-40s, said Satoru Maeda, senior general manager of Sony's Personal IT TV Division and the man in charge of the Airboard project.
"The number of middle-aged people who bought Airboard has been increasing. We'd like to expand the market volume for middle-aged people." As for younger people, Maeda believes many of them are already used to using cellular telephone handsets for e-mail and so, coupled with the high price, the market among teens and those in their twenties is limited.
Sony sees the Airboard and its base station as much more than just a wireless television with internet access, and is anxious that the device is not thought of as an internet appliance — there having been several high-profile failures recently, including Sony's very own eVilla.
"Our base station has the function of router, (wireless) access point and print server," he said. "There are a lot of functions in the base station and there are no products with all of these functions."
In Japan the Airboard IDT-LF2 will go on sale in January for around £715. Maeda said he would like to sell the device overseas but there are no concrete plans to put it on sale in foreign markets at present.