AutoPC Goes On sale Friday

The first personal computer for the car, made by Clarion, will go on sale Friday, marking another bold Microsoft step outside of the PC industry. The AutoPC combines email, entertainment, and navigation and will be initially available on the West Coast, followed by national distribution, said Clarion spokeswoman Diane Tanaka. The price for the basic system will be $1,299. Options such as global-positioning for navigation will be priced separately.  Powered by Microsoft's Windows CE operating system, AutoPC is part of the Redmond, Washington, giant's push to create a "Web lifestyle" that generates demand for software beyond the desktop computer. Clarion will be followed by Ford Motor, whose Visteon unit said it expects to unveil a car PC by the middle of next year.

"Microsoft will have a first-to-market advantage," in terms of the PC industry, said Ross Rubin, an analyst at Jupiter Communications, edging such competitors as International Business Machines, Sun Microsystems, and Intel. The AutoPC first was unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. The system slides into the car's dash and uses speech recognition and voice-activated commands to keep the driver's hands free. It can receive and read email messages and allow users to ask for and receive directions to a destination.

Addresses can be transferred from a handheld PC to the AutoPC, using an infrared link, allowing voice-activated phone calls. The speech-recognition technology comes from Lernout & Hauspie Speech Products, a Belgium-based company in which Microsoft invested last year. "The target customer is the PC companion user," said Phil Holden, Microsoft's product manager for the Windows CE product group. PC companions are handheld and palm-sized computers. About 1 million of these devices using Windows CE have shipped, Holden said.

Visteon's system will have even more features, said Visteon spokeswoman Cheryl Eberwein, who declined to give an expected price. Visteon plans to make its device available to all automakers, not just Ford. Some analysts are skeptical about the car PC because its multiple functions-- communications, navigation and entertainment--could confuse consumers. "You don't get efficiency in combining those three," said Tom Rhinelander, an analyst at Forrester Research. "You get added complexity."

Source: Bloomberg News


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