Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Media Choices Just Keep on Coming

Portable Net Radio Ready for Retail
By Frank Barnako
Dow Jones Market Watch

Within the next few weeks, Torian Wireless will begin showing U.S. retailers what you might call a Wi-Fi "Walkman." The InFusion is a portable, battery-powered device which you can tune to any of thousands of Internet radio stations. It also has an FM radio, an audio recorder, and an MP3 player. It does not have a built-in speaker. The retail price could be as low as $229.
George Parthimos, Torian's founder, said inspiration for the device came to him while he was traveling in Europe in 1999. "I wasn't able to hear my football teams from back home in Melbourne," he said. "It wasn't rocket science to come home and work up a design."
A working prototype of the device has been seen publicly. In its debut, at the 2005 Consumer Electronics Show, it was a finalist for the G4TechTV Best of Award. In January, at the 2006 CES, InFusion won an Innovations Honoree award.
"We went to CES with an early model," Parthimos said. "It was kind of dodgy, but we wanted to test the market. We came back, made some modifications, and then three of us went on an eight-country world tour in 21 days to show what we had."
The big holdup, of course, was widely available Internet access. That's less of an issue now. Just this week, Wayport Inc. announced its 10th anniversary and reported it's installed Wi-Fi in more than 7,200 McDonald's restaurants. Numerous other firms have aggressively expanded Wi-Fi to hotels, airports, train stations, and other retailers. Starbucks began deploying Wi-Fi in its stores in 2002.
Parthimos has an agreement with a manufacturer in Malaysia to produce the InFusion. "In a couple of weeks, we'll be getting samples for distributors and we can get into mass production in six to eight weeks."
Availability at retail may be limited to a few boutique stores and his Web site unless a retailer like Best Buy or Circuit City places a big order. "There are a lot of niche players who'd like to take this on." Torian is privately held, has about 20 employees, but no revenues. "We can't fund a mass release ourselves," he said.


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