Is Microsoft's Mira technology the kickstart the handheld internet appliance market needs?
Mira devices (the codename comes from the Spanish for 'to watch') are detachable wireless monitors that can be used up to 100m from a PC, letting you work in any room around the house.
At the CeBit trade show in Hanover this week, Microsoft announced four new partners that will make display devices based on the Mira design.
Philips and LG are both building devices (Philips' is pictured above), while TriGem of Korea and Tatung of Taiwan will develop designs for other companies to manufacture, Microsoft said.
Bill Gates, Microsoft's chairman and chief software architect, launched the Mira technology at a keynote speech on the eve of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January.
Mira devices use 802.11b wireless technology and the RDP (remote desktop protocol) software built into both Windows XP and CE to communicate. They have rechargeable batteries that will last for four to six hours before they need powering up in the monitor's cradle, according Todd Warren, general manager of Microsoft's embedded and appliance platform group.
Mira monitors are principally targeted at the consumer market, said Warren.
"Where the tablet PC is the evolution of the laptop, Mira devices are the evolution of the monitor," he said.
Microsoft promotional videos show the devices being used around a home, to view weather forecasts, check email and read the news in the bathroom. Warren acknowledges that they are likely to get lost and says manufacturers have been considering possible ways of tracking the products from the main PC, such as making them beep until found.
Philips has produced prototype 10.4in and 15in monitors, plus a wireless keyboard to work with the latter. Tatung has developed a rugged, waterproof version, presumably for use in the bathroom or garden.
Warren also suggested that flat-screen TVs could include Mira technology and act as monitors when needed.
Mira monitors will not be able to show movies or television because they do not have enough CPU (central processing unit) power for streaming video, but there are plans to include that capability in later versions, Warren said.
The Mira presence at CeBit would suggest that Microsoft intends to put serious weight into promoting the technology. Other partners already announced include National Semiconductor, Fujitsu, Intel, NEC and Matsushita (Panasonic).
Microsoft expects Mira monitors to be available by Christmas 2002 at around £280, Warren said.