RetailVision Highlights Broadband Products

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The product introductions at RetailVision, held earlier this month in Los Angeles, ran the gamut from game software to computer security hardware to LCD monitors, but up-and-coming technologies such as broadband Internet access also played a large role at the show.

The increasing popularity of broadband Internet access will require consumers to be more vigilant in protecting their PCs from hacker attacks, so WatchGuard Technologies later this year will ship a product specifically designed to accomplish this task.

The WatchGuard Home, shipping in the fourth quarter with an expected $199 suggested retail price, will help stop hackers from accessing a home computer and also acts as a PNA home-networking hub, said Dean Bravos, WatchGuard's retail products sales VP.

Home PCs using broadband are particularly at risk because DSL and cable modems are always connected to the web, even when the PC is turned off. This creates a wider window of opportunity for hacking, compared to a computer that has only dial-up Internet service -- which is only at risk when the computer is turned on.

For no additional cost, Bravos said, WatchGuard will automatically update the security system through the Internet as new viruses and hacking techniques are discovered, Bravos said.

Antec will start shipping a USB version of its Attache handheld portable scanner this July and follow it up with a new line of scanners for the portable market.

The USB model will carry a $149 suggested retail price and will be similar to the company's PC card device that is now on the market. The USB connectivity will open the Attache line up to the Apple iBook market, said sales and marketing VP Scott Richards.

Antec plans to expand the Attache line to include models designed for use with PDAs and handheld computers.

Value software maker Arc Media is branching out from its edutainment and lifestyle software heritage to add games to its product list.

Two games that the company has licensed from other publishers are ready for shipment, said marketing manager Kyra Lamb. Arc has also created its own game development team.

Other titles slated to ship this year, all retailing for less than $20, are Amazing Fact Finder II, which challenges children with educational questions, and Herbal Guide, which helps consumers choose the proper herbal treatments for more than 250 ailments.

ATEN Technology's IOGEAR division, Irvine, Calif., introduced ShareView at RetailVision, software that enables consumers to have one computer serve two, three or four workstations.

Simultaneous Internet connection with a single phone line and modem, dual access to all drives, scanners. printers and other peripherals, and shared software capabilities are just some of the features of this product. Set for April shipment, its suggested retail is $129.

Game controller manufacturer AVB will start introducing in the U.S. retail market in the next few months AVB-branded products, including a vibrating mouse that can help visually impaired individuals surf the Internet and use PCs.

The Vibration Mouse, shipping this quarter, reacts to the web page it is on by telling the user when it is over certain icons and, via vibrations, where the cursor is located. The device can be used with certain software applications that feature embedded instructions to tell users, for example, when they are in a new column in Excel.

The mouse also has a gaming function, said Lawrence Ling, AVB's global sales marketing manager. It plugs into a PC's sound card or speaker and vibrates in reaction to noise such as gunfire or explosions generated by a game. The Vibration Mouse will carry a $39 to $49 price point.

In May the company will start shipping a new force-feedback racing wheel with a suggested retail price of $99, and it has already started shipping a $79 three-piece flat-panel speaker set.

A force-feedback mouse is scheduled for release this fall. AVB also makes force-feedback joysticks.

Big Picture Technologies, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, showed three titles for e-commerce functions for small businesses.

The titles are eMerchant pro, Smart Site 3.0, and Big Picture Technologies' newest title, eClerk -- a web-based sales support and customer service product for web-enabled businesses.

The eClerk software offers proactive service and support solutions through interactive real-time text chats, and in-depth customer profile information and reporting to enhance e-business and increase e-commerce sales, the company said. Less a $30 rebate, the suggested retail is $249.95.

Caldera Systems this month started shipping the newest version of its Linux software, OpenLinux eDesktop 2.4, which loads the Linux operating system onto a PC and then works seamlessly with the native Windows system.

The software contains a full version of Linux, plus several software applications that for the first time have been ported to work with the OS, said director of channel sales Scott Countryman.

The product, which carries a $30 street price, automatically configures a PC's hard drive to contain both the Linux and Windows operating systems and lets them operate simultaneously -- which allows the consumer to open and use Windows applications in the Linux environment, the company said. Past versions of this software required that one OS be turned off and the other booted, a time-consuming task.

The OpenLinux eDesktop 2.4 title is also designed to improve Linux's performance on the web. When used to access the Internet, Linux tends to be more unstable than Windows, the company said, but the newer version is more robust and stable.

Some of the new Linux-ported applications are Netscape Communicator 4.72, Adobe Acrobat Reader 4.0, Real Networks RealPlayer 5.0 and StarOffice 5.1a. Caldera is working with other software vendors to port their popular Windows and Macintosh OS titles to the Linux system.

CenturionSoft, based in Washington, D.C., introduced during the show Family Guardian, a new software utility that enables parents to protect their children while using the family computer.

The software not only blocks objectionable Internet sites, it also allows parents to find out how their children spend time on the computer, both on- and off-line. Shipping now, the suggested retail price for Family Guardian is $39.95.

Digi-Frame reported at Retail-Vision that its DF-390 and DF-360 digital picture frame products are shipping to retailers.

B&H Photo, DataVision, Eckerd Drug, Fry's Electronics, J&R Computer/Music World, the Neiman Marcus Men's Spring Catalog, and Wolf Camera are among the first retailers to carry the line, the company said. Two distributors have been signed: Argraph, serving more than 3,000 photography stores, and Laguna Distributors, handling specialty retailers in the Northeast.

The two digital frames are said to be the only ones that are compatible with both CompactFlash and SmartMedia memory cards. Another feature is the ability to display images taken from the Internet or e-mail via the Macintosh/

PC cable that is included.

E Book Systems, a Singapore-based company with offices in Boston and Santa Clara, Calif., introduced the digital Flip Album CD Maker designed to create digital photo albums on a CD.

The software enables consumers to store individual images on a CD, then organize and send them. Shipping now, this plug-and-play title has a suggested retail of $49.95.

EGames of Langhorne, Pa., offers games "for consumers 3 to 93," according to executive VP Bill Acheson.

The games are easy to play for the entire family, and they are highly profitable "evergreens," Acheson said. The line consists of 60 SKUs, which range in price from $4.99 to $14.99.

The games include mah-jongg, solitaire, puzzle, maze and word titles, as well as bingo, golf, and packages for boys and girls. EGames has available six different POP displays for retailers, the company said.

OEM monitor manufacturer EPI is looking to increase the retail presence for its budget-priced CRT and LCD desktop monitors. The company, which now sells through many of the NATM retailers, was at RetailVision to find a national retailer to handle its Envision- brand monitors, said Todd Brown, sales manager of U.S. distribution.

Part of EPI's hook is that it will deal directly with retailers and not go through distribution. It also intends to handle all consumer returns. "We will have an online registration process that will allow us to track our customers," Brown said, "and let us deal directly with any return situations."

The company's newest products to become available are 15- and 17-inch LCD monitors, expected to sell for $799 and $1,499, respectively.

EPI has a 19-inch LCD for retail on its road map, and it sees LCD prices dropping in the future. Marketing director Young J. Yoo expects retail LCD prices for the industry to fall by 5% to 10% per quarter for the remainder of this year.

GlobalStar Software will start shipping next month 100 Professional Legal Forms, a budget-priced legal software title, to be followed by the release of 24 new game and business applications in the next few months.

The legal forms title is a first for the company, which has primarily concentrated on games and business titles costing between $10 and $30, said Jeff Quinn, GlobalStar's director of product development.

With the Y2K problem now officially a non-issue, software publisher Greenwich Mean Time is turning its attention to new areas.

The company, which is known for its Y2K-fix software, this month began shipping its MP3 Jukebox -- a product targeted to consumers with large CD collections who would like to record them onto a PC in an orderly and easy-to-access manner.

Once downloaded, the albums can be accessed in much the same manner as they are in a jukebox. The end user can scroll through them alphabetically and choose individual songs or tell the PC to play only a certain genre or musical group, said senior VP David Marshall.

MP3 Jukebox carries a $29.95 street price.

Greenwich Mean Time's second new title is a virtual newspaper dubbed e-clipse. This is essentially a news search engine that tracks down news stories on the Internet on any topic the end user is interested in and then places them in the form of a newspaper for easy reading, Marshall said. The paper can be updated as many times as needed.

e-clipse will ship next month at a price to be determined.

Jasc Software of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, showed Paint Shop Pro 6 software that creates web graphics and enhances digital photos.

The title, which began shipping in mid-February, has a suggested retail price of $39.95. It enables users to capture photos from cameras and scanners, create great web graphics, enhance photos and images, and print and share photos, the company said.

Kingston Technology has developed a line of budget-priced RAM memory products geared toward the entry-level PC market.

Called Value RAM, the line offers consumers the ability to inexpensively upgrade their computers' memory, said Kevin Ford, sales and marketing director for the Value RAM business unit.

Kingston already produces memory for higher-end computers that usually require a specific memory module, but the popular low-cost computers from white box makers and such companies as eMachines can accept what is basically a generic type of RAM.

These products will offer retailers an excellent point-of-purchase add-on sale opportunity because many low-priced PCs come with a limited amount of memory, Ford said. The Value line will enable a sales associate to offer more RAM than the consumer or store can install, while adding margin to the sale.

The products have been picked up by Best Buy and OfficeMax, but Kingston intends to limit the number of retailers who carry the product in order to keep the brand's perceived value as high as possible.

Linksys' home-networking product introductions will shift into high gear in the next two months -- shipping a wireless product line, a USB-based PNA networking hub, and a product to combine PNA networks with broadband Internet access.

The wireless products, based on the 802.11B wireless protocol, will ship by mid-May and come in several flavors, including PCMCIA, USB and PC card.

The USB device will enable a consumer to set up a PNA-type, 10MB per second home network without having to open the computer and install a PCI card -- a task many people shy away from tackling, a company spokesperson said.

The PNA/broadband bridge product is further down the road, with a ship date to be set.

Neopost Online is developing a suite of postage meters for the home and small-business markets.

The first products to ship are the ProMail and EZMail meters, said sales VP Jim Hart.

The ProMail, intended for small businesses spending at least $230 per month on postage, has received approval from the U.S. Postal Service and costs $49.95, plus a $14.95 per month service charge. Neopost is offering $50 in free postage with each purchase.

Due to the secured nature of the device, there are a couple of oddities associated with ProMail, Hart said. It must be shipped, not sold right off the shelf, and the customer never actually owns the device. Instead, Neopost is the owner and can reclaim the product if it is being misused.

The EZMail model is more akin to a computer peripheral in that the customer does get to take it home from the store. The device, which directly prints downloaded stamps onto envelopes, is free, but Neopost charges a 10% service charge on all downloaded postage.

Hart said the Postal Service would like to see the EZMail become popular with the average homeowner because it could alleviate its stamp printing costs. Getting more people to use a meter instead of a stick-on stamp is a major challenge, he added, but one that can be accomplished with an educational campaign.

Orange Micro, based in Anaheim, Calif., was a first-time RetailVision attendee. The supplier of enhancement cards for PCs and Macintosh highlighted its FireWire 1394 Series of products.

The FireWire 1394 PCI Board (suggested retail about $99) adds two FireWire ports and enables users to take advantage of the latest peripherals, including digital video cameras and portable hard disks.

Live digital video can be brought into a computer, and with the free Adobe Premiere LE (for Mac) or Ulead Video Studio (for PC), consumers can edit home videos.


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