Microsoft Ditches Smart Displays

Only about a year after the first "Smart Displays" shipped, Microsoft is dropping further development of software for the displays that connect wirelessly to a PC.

"After evaluating current market trends ... Microsoft is not at this time working on the next version of Smart Display technology," says Megan Kidd, a Microsoft product manager, in an e-mail response to questions. Microsoft and its hardware partners came to the decision to stop work on the Smart Display product in early December, she says.

The first Smart Displays started shipping in January last year after a short delay. The devices allow users to access their PC through a touch-screen display that can be carried about the home and that communicates with the PC using the 802.11b wireless networking standard, also known as Wi-Fi.

ViewSonic and Philips Consumer Electronics, part of Koninklijke Philips Electronics, are among the vendors that have been selling Smart Displays. The Philips DesXscape 150DM is available online starting at about $1185, while ViewSonic's Airpanel V110p is listed for $799.

Potential Problems

Microsoft never perfected Windows CE for Smart Displays, the software that runs the devices. For example, the displays do not support concurrent log-on so one person could use the PC at the desk with a fixed monitor and another could carry the Smart Display and use the PC that way. Also, the devices lack processing power for streaming video.

Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates introduced the concept of Smart Displays, then code-named Mira, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in 2002. Availability of the devices was announced at CES in 2003. This year's CES starts Thursday.

Microsoft promotional videos showed Smart Displays being used around a home, to view weather forecasts and read the news in the bathroom. The Redmond, Washington-based software vendor called Smart Displays "the evolution of the monitor" and also suggested that flat-screen TVs could include the technology and act as monitors when needed.

"We are hearing that consumers are looking for ways to easily access the information that resides on their PCs in more relaxed settings, and Microsoft will continue to evaluate this market and work with partners to determine the best, and most cost efficient, way to meet this demand," Microsoft's Kidd says.

A Wise Move?

Dropping the Smart Display is a good move, says Tim Bajarin, president of technology consulting company Creative Strategies in Campbell, California.

"A lot of us analysts questioned that as a concept for quite a while. It is in essence a dumb mobile terminal. Tablet PCs at consumer level prices can fit in to that same role as the smart display, but be a full terminal instead of a dumb one," he says.

Joe Wilcox, a Washington, D.C.-based Jupiter Research senior analyst, says he initially thought Smart Displays were a clever idea, but not anymore.

"When Microsoft developed the concept it looked like a pretty bright idea, but over time that idea looked dimmer and dimmer," he says. Smart Displays suffered from their shortcomings and faced competition from affordable large LCDs and cheap notebook computers, he says.

"The deck was kind of stacked against Smart Displays almost from the start," Wilcox says.

Still, ViewSonic continues to believe in the concept. "We are committed to the wireless monitor category and it would make sense for us to continue it," says Trevor Bratton, a spokesperson for ViewSonic in Walnut, California. Bratton declines to discuss what effect Microsoft's abandonment of Smart Displays has on ViewSonic.

Current Smart Display owners will continue to be supported. "Support calls have always been handled by the vendors, this will continue to be the process," Microsoft's Kidd says.

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