We're supposed to be rocketing full throttle into the age of Internet appliances, meaning e-mail on every street corner and the Web in every room of your home. Two stand-alone Internet appliances started the charge last year: the MailStation from Cidco and the i-opener from Netpliance. Sure, they're compact and sleek, but is there any place for them in your business?
The $99 MailStation is a single-minded machine. Its sole purpose is to handle e-mail. To that end, it supports up to five e-mail accounts and stores up to 1,000 contacts and 400 messages. Its modem clocks in at 33.6Kbps-not state-of-the-art but fast enough for e-mail. The downside? The keyboard measures less than full size, and the integrated monochrome screen is similar in size to a palmtop. Plus, if you already have an e-mail account, the best you can do is forward your messages to the MailStation. Unfortunately, opening attachments requires using a separate PC. All this costs $9.95 per month for unlimited e-mail. The verdict? A good idea for Grandma, but it won't top a real computer and e-mail service for handling your business account.
The $199 i-opener looks somewhat reminiscent of a super-slim desktop. The device consists of a 10-inch flat screen, a mouse and a keyboard. Even the most cluttered desk will find room for it. Equipped with a PS/2 port, a printer port and a USB port, the i-opener seems to be more promising for business applications. A $21.95 monthly fee covers limited Web access and e-mail.
The i-opener won't get too much use in an office environment, but it could offer a quick way to stay connected at home. Until more business-oriented, flexible products arrive, you should approach these gadgets mainly as playthings. In the meantime, PCs are in no danger of being supplanted.