Panasonic is taking the PC out of computing

By Ashlee Vance, InfoWorld |  Software

A cavalcade of executives from Panasonic kicked off the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) here Friday by voicing serious doubts about the PC's future in home electronics.

Panasonic -- the best-known brand name of Matsushita Electric Industrial -- will up the ante on its PC attack by linking a variety of devices via portable high-capacity, small-size memory cards, and consolidating a variety of entertainment products into single units.

Don Iwatani, chairman and chief executive officer of Matsushita Electric Corporation of America, vowed Panasonic will embrace wireless technology, broadband services, and postage stamp-size SD (secure digital) memory cards to circumvent PC dependence.

"We are shedding some old ways and reinventing ourselves as a new Panasonic," Iwatani said. "Many people find computers difficult to understand and unfriendly. In the future, we will not need separate computers at all."

Iwatani's message stands in stark contrast to the sentiments voiced by two other companies with a large presence here at CES -- Intel and Microsoft. The Wintel (Windows/Intel) partnership, which played a major role in growing the PC market, now sees the PC as being crucial to their consumer electronic hopes. Both Intel and Microsoft will make numerous electronics-related releases in the upcoming year and have said the electronics markets are key to expanding their future respective revenues.

Panasonic, however, appears more focused on adding ease of use and portability to its entire product range, linking devices either with the SD memory cards or over Internet-enabled thin-client displays.

Panasonic currently makes a 64MB SD memory card and will have a 256MB card later this year. These cards can fit in music players and set-top boxes. Users can slip the tiny card in a portable player and then later remove it and place it in their home music system, carrying their favorite tunes with them regardless of their location.

In keeping with its SD card commitment, Panasonic released the new SV-SD75 e-wear SD audio player. About the size of a book of matches, the player weighs 1.5 ounces and can be worn around the neck or kept in a pocket. The device also includes a CD-ROM with RealJukebox software. The audio player's 64MB SD card can hold an hour of songs in High Fidelity mode or 86 minutes in Standard Play mode. The unit is available this month at $400.

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