Handheld Sharing

By Eric Griffith

January 14, 2004

Easy sharing of photos and more with friends and family is the goal of the wireless Pepper Pad.

There's no lack of tools for wirelessly sharing digital data these days, but Pepper Computing has built an entire platform around it. Their Pepper Keeper software environment can run on PCs or Macs and allows organization and sharing of group resources, from important files to family photos. It even includes a localized IM client for anyone on the local network, and ties in with the AOL Instant Messenger network to further facilitate showing off files across the Internet.

What's this got to do with Wi-Fi? Pepper's also shopping around a reference design for a digital pad that will do the same sharing via your Wi-Fi network.

Called the Pepper Pad, the units will run an embedded Linux operating system from MontaVista Software and will connect to the wireless network to check e-mail, send IMs, and of course, do Web surfing. The primary use of the unit, however, is to share resources using the Pepper Keeper tools.

"We designed a device that we think is the optimal unit for our software," says Jon Melamut, vice president of Sales & Business Development at Pepper Computer.

The final devices to Pepper's specifications will be about two pounds and have a built in 600x800 LCD screen, a 5GB hard drive, all running on an Intel XScale processor. Speakers -- for sharing MP3 files -- are built in, plus a headphone jack. There will be ports for connecting peripherals by USB 2.0 and SDIO. There's a full QWERTY keyboard on the unit, split in half to be on either side of the screen. The on/off switch is also a cool security tool: a fingerprint reader. And there's built in 802.11b.

Pepper is licensing the design to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) -- they aren't into making the hardware. Melamut says the company is talking with a number of consumer electronics companies now, which is probably why they made their debut last week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The obvious target for the use of the Pepper Pad is kids.

"We just finished an eight week trial with 16 teens across the US," says Melamut. "They really liked it...the fingerprint reader as built-in on/off switch [was a hit], so younger siblings couldn't see their data." Parents had more mixed reviews on that feature and others, he admits, but changes are already being considered to allow multiple users to get access.

The Pepper Keeper software on the pad will be identical to the version that runs under Windows and Macintosh, with the addition of Internet client software, of course. The Pepper Keeper software won't know or care that OS its running on when sharing data.

Melamut estimates, depending on the potential bill of materials, that a hardware maker could sell Pepper Pads at retail for between $499 to $899 -- a tall order for hardware with abilities far below a similarly priced PDA or laptop. But they're not worried, as they feel the ease of use factor will be the driving force to bring in younger and older users who don't want to learn an entire operating system just to share digital photos.

The Pepper Keeper suite of software for Windows and Mac can be tried for free, or purchased in full for $19.95 until the end of January, when it goes back to the full price of $29.95.



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