US West Communications will use Spokane as a test market for a hybrid phone that might become an alternative way of scouring the Internet.
“You’re looking at the car of the future,” said US West spokesman Miles Morimoto, showcasing the gizmo during Wednesday’s Business Expo ‘96 at the Spokane Convention Center.
Instead of using a high-powered computer to connect to the Internet, the new device dials via phone modem to another computer fully equipped to browse the net.
“You move around, using a keyboard or mouse, but the real work is going on somewhere else,” said Morimoto. “The user at the other end just sees the results displayed on his or her monitor.”
It’s been called the Internet Phone, but the company is looking for a new name, Morimoto said. Three or four companies nationwide have developed versions of the same product.
Its advantages include being cheaper and lighter than a standard laptop computer and easier to configure.
Its disadvantages are also obvious, said several would-be customers.
“You can’t even bookmark (file for future reference) where you’ve been on the net,” said Michael Carson, one of Business Expo’s visitors.
Since it’s not a computer with a hard drive or file management, the device can’t save copies of information found on the Internet.
US West doesn’t even have a selling price for the product. One likely strategy is to give them away, then charge for the time people use them each month.
“We’re looking to get about 20 to 30 trial users here,” said Lou Rubbo, another US West product representative.
Morimoto said the users would be people “who feel disenfranchised by all this Internet hype.”
They’re people who don’t want to install a full-bore desktop computer and who only have a fax machine in their offices.
“They also don’t want to deal with all the different settings and problems that come with changing or upgrading your (Internet software),” he said.
With a US West account, an Internet phone user could use the device to access a variety of messages - e-mail, faxes or voice mail calls.
“Phone companies see this as a different way of helping customers take advantage of business communication options,” Morimoto said.
Some technology advocates have been pushing the idea of a network computer - a stripped down, $500 box designed just to let users move about easily on the Internet.
“This is another way to go, taking the approach of adding features to the phone and letting it do more things,” said Rubbo.