In April, CMI Worldwide begins delivering its iCEBOX, the countertop version of the company's "infopliance" for the kitchen.
The name iCEBOX stands for Information Communication Entertainment Box.
The unit -- which includes a wireless, waterproof, greaseproof keyboard, as well as a white plastic cabinet with a 9-inch built-in screen -- provides Internet access and cable TV viewing and plays audio and video CDs. Used with a video camera, it also has audio and video capability to monitor other rooms in the home.
A step-up version, designed to mount under a kitchen cabinet, adds a DVD player and broadband capability.
CMI's chairman/CEO Bob Lamson said the target price for the countertop version, to be sold through traditional electronics and appliance retail channels, will be $499.
The company is seeking arrangements with service providers to reduce prices for purchasers who sign up for portal memberships, Lamson said.
The step-up iCEBOX, coming in May at $2,000, is designed for installation in new or remodeled kitchens and will be sold through builders and remodeling channels.
"We expect that 75% of our target customers will already have a PC in their homes, but the iCEBOX is designed so people who have no interest in computers can use it," Lamson said. "Our goal was to create a product that would equal or even surpass the consumer impact of the microwave oven."
Chief technical officer Bob Harrison said the company is currently working with Electrolux in Europe to develop ways to interface the under-cabinet iCEBOX with various major appliances. Talks are also under way with some U.S. majap suppliers, he said.
"Appliance companies in Europe are more interested in this type of capability than many U.S. appliance manufacturers," Harrison noted. "We hope retailers apply pressure on the U.S. suppliers to get them going."
Later this year an iCEBOX model will be introduced in Europe that can transmit a message to its owner's cellphone saying, for example, that the oven has been left on. The owner then keys in a code to turn the oven off remotely.
Seattle-based CMI has also developed a series of video CDs giving recipes and cooking tips. The CDs will be sold through retailers as well as through CMI's Internet site, according to Harrison.