August 30, 2001 10:00 AM PDT

Sony axes eVilla Web-surfing appliance

Sony is dropping its eVilla Internet appliance less than two months after it started shipping, CNET News.com has learned.

Sony executives blamed the demise on "stability and usability" problems with the $499 desktop Web-browsing appliance, but did not offer specifics.

"The product did not meet our expectations," Sony spokesman John Dolak said. "It did not operate as planned."

Sony said it will offer customers a full refund for the eVilla and EarthLink Internet service fees.

Dolak said the cancellation had nothing to do with the fact that earlier this month Palm purchased the assets of Be, the company that made the operating system for the eVilla. Palm representatives said at the time that the company had no plans to continue development of the BeIA operating system.

Sony said it has begun notifying customers that it will discontinue the eVilla by Sept. 13.

IDC analyst Bryan Ma said he was surprised to see Sony pull the plug so soon. But he added that any technical problems probably exacerbated the low demand for Web appliances.

"They dipped their toes in the water, found out it was freezing cold and just pulled right back," Ma said.

Sony unveiled the device at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, but its launch was delayed several times. Sony attributed the delays to efforts to line up content partners. The product began shipping to customers in early July.

The consumer electronics giant was pitching the device as a "network entertainment center." But analysts were less than enthusiastic, noting that the device was similar to other Web-browsing devices that had failed to garner a market.

The Internet appliance market has seen a number of products shelved in recent months.

In March, 3Com pulled its Audrey after about six months on the market and offered refunds to customers.

Netpliance last year stopped selling its I-opener, one of the first low-cost Web browsing devices. Gateway has said it is rethinking its Internet appliance strategy and has scaled back its efforts to sell the Net device it developed with America Online.

Compaq Computer still sells two devices that connect directly to Microsoft's MSN Internet service. Emachines sold an Internet appliance that used MSN but has stopped selling it.

The New Internet Computer Co. also sells a $199 Net-surfing appliance.

 

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