Two slick new gadgets introduced last week aim to simplify digital fun. One, called Moxi, is a digital hub for the living room, meant to banish the mass of boxes, cords, and remotes that now represent state-of-the-art home entertainment. The other, Apple's new flat-screen iMac computer, is a creative center for the desktop, with software and accessories that let it manipulate music, movies, and photos with a minimum of fuss.
It's all in the service of "convergence," or merging functions–the buzzword at this year's International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where Moxi made its debut. In a standing-room-only address, for example, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates disclosed two new initiatives to move the PC out of the study and into the living room. The first, code-named Mira, is a portable wireless tablet that will let consumers remotely access music files, E-mail, and the Web. The second, software called Freestyle, converts the PC into a television and video recorder that can be operated by remote control.
But for now the acme of convergence is Moxi, a box roughly the size of a chunky VCR. From start-up Moxi Digital, the brainchild of WebTV creator Steve Perlman, the Moxi Media Center functions as a satellite or digital cable receiver, a DVD and CD player, a digital recorder and jukebox for both music and video, and an Internet gateway able to serve up data to any television or personal computer in the house. Consumers won't see the Moxi in stores. Instead, the boxes will be marketed–at a subsidized $150 or so–through satellite and cable TV providers. EchoStar, parent of Dish Network, will do field trials this summer and may offer Moxi to all subscribers by the end of the year.
All in one. Apple is trying to ease convergence in the personal computer. Its new iMac, unveiled at the annual Macworld convention in San Francisco, sports a bright, laptoplike 15-inch LCD screen perched on an adjustable extension, with a 700-to-800-megahertz G4 processor in its domed base. "Aggressively priced" at $1,299 to $1,799, it comes with software for editing digital movies, uploading MP3 music to Apple's bar-of-soap-shaped iPod portable player, and managing digital photos; top models also have a "superdrive" that can burn CDs and DVDs. On the market in several weeks, the new Mac could lure a new generation of computer users who want to make their own movie shorts, customize their music collections, create instant photo albums, and post it all on the Web for friends and family to see.
Some Apple fans were hoping for even more convergence. Rumors had circulated of a device called iDock, a portable wireless pad using 802.11b, the increasingly popular technology for home and coffeehouse networking. Like Moxi and Microsoft's Mira, it would be a nerve center for managing digital and Web devices throughout the home. But iDock turned out, for now, to be an i-llusion.