By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
VERNON HILLS, ILL. -ArialPhone announced May availability of its $399-suggested-retail ArialPhone, a SOHO-oriented product whose cordless earset lets users voice-dial phone numbers stored in a connected PC's contact list.
Availability through the company's website will be followed in July by sales through select retail outlets. ArialPhone is initially targeting office superstores and SOHO distributors.
"I think ArialPhone represents a completely new category," said CEO Jim Alland. "You have wireless headsets and earsets, you have PC-based telephony from companies such as Net2Phone, and you have voice-command services from companies such as Webley, but only ArialPhone combines all three."
Here's how it works:
A 900MHz digital spread-spectrum cordless earset communicates to a cordless base station, which plugs into a PC's USB port and into a phone jack. Once the PC is on and running the supplied ArialPhone software, consumers can use the headset to make calls via voice command.
The commands, such as "Call John Smith," are relayed wirelessly to the base station, which accesses existing PC-based contact management applications, including Microsoft Outlook, to retrieve the number and dial out. Users can also speak digits into the headset to place calls.
"This is an ideal product for the SOHO market," said Alland. "These people are heavy users of Outlook and have extensive contact databases. This product lets them roam up to 150 feet away from their computers while placing phone calls with simple voice commands, rather than looking up and then typing a number. It frees up not just their hands, but their time, and lets them be more productive."
The earset weighs about an ounce and uses a single rechargeable lithium-ion polymer battery that delivers two to three hours of talktime. The base station comes with two batteries and two charging slots so that a fully charged battery is always on hand.
If a battery runs low during a phone conversation, the earset will generate an audible alert. The phone connection will be held while the user replaces the battery.
ArialPhone uses 900MHz digital spread spectrum, Alland said, because it delivers consistent results. "Right now, 2.4GHz is a big marketing angle, but it doesn't function as well as 900MHz DSS inside mirrored or wood walls," he explained. "It's also a very crowded frequency, since everyone's hopping on the bandwagon."
Later configurations of the ArialPhone will support Voice-over-IP telephony, Alland said, and the company is negotiating with several VoIP providers.
Users will simply say "Call John Smith over Internet" to route the call.
"With VoIP, we will really have a revolution: the computer as telephony device," said Alland. The VoIP solution would be uniquely suited to the SOHO market, he said, because of the allure of cheaper long-distance rates and access to broadband Internet connections.
However, it will be some time before ArialPhone penetrates the consumer space, because they "will have to get used to leaving the computer on, and the price will obviously have to drop."
Because ArialPhone is an open platform, it has a variety of possibilities, including home networking, said Alland, who noted that the company is in discussion with a variety of home-networking players, including Intel.
"The ArialPhone already has the ability to be the voice remote control for a home network," Alland explained. "That functionality is built into the device, and we've already tested it in that environment. We don't market it as such because, frankly, that market is still too small."
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