Microsoft abandons Smart Displays

Microsoft is dropping further development of its Smart Displays technology.

Microsoft is dropping further development of its Smart Displays technology.

"After evaluating current market trends ... Microsoft is not at this time working on the next version of Smart Display technology," said Microsoft product manager Megan Kidd, adding that Microsoft and its hardware partners came to the decision to stop work on the Smart Display product in early December.

The first Smart Displays started shipping in January last year. The devices allow users to access their PC through a touch-screen display that can be carried about the home and that communicates with the PC using the 802.11b wireless networking standard, also known by the Wi-Fi marketing name.

ViewSonic and Philips are among the companies that have been selling Smart Displays. The Philips DesXscape 150DM is available online starting at about $1,185, while ViewSonic's Airpanel V110p is listed for $799.

Microsoft never perfected Windows CE for Smart Displays, the software that runs the devices. For example, the displays do not support concurrent logon so one person could use the PC at the desk with a fixed monitor and another could carry the Smart Display and use the PC that way. The devices also lack processing power for streaming video.

Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates introduced the concept of Smart Displays, then codenamed Mira, at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in 2002. Availability of the devices was announced at CES in 2003.

Microsoft promotional videos showed Smart Displays being used around a home, to view weather forecasts and read the news in the bathroom. The company called Smart Displays "the evolution of the monitor" and also suggested that flat-screen TVs could include the technology and act as monitors when needed.

"We are hearing that consumers are looking for ways to easily access the information that resides on their PCs in more relaxed settings, and Microsoft will continue to evaluate this market and work with partners to determine the best, and most cost efficient, way to meet this demand," Microsoft's Kidd said.

Dropping the Smart Display is a good move, said Tim Bajarin, president of technology consulting company Creative Strategies.

"A lot of us questioned that as a concept for quite a while. It is, in essence, a dumb mobile terminal. Tablet PCs at consumer level prices can fit in to that same role as the smart display, but be a full terminal instead of a dumb one," he added.

Jupiter Research senior analyst Joe Wilcox initially thought Smart Displays were a clever idea.

"Over time that idea looked dimmer and dimmer," he said, adding that Smart Displays suffered from their shortcomings and faced competition from affordable large LCDs and cheap notebook computers. "The deck was kind of stacked against Smart Displays almost from the start."

Still, ViewSonic continues to believe in the concept. "We are committed to the wireless monitor category and it would make sense for us to continue it," said spokesman Trevor Bratton. However, he declined to discuss what effect Microsoft's abandonment of Smart Displays will haveon ViewSonic.

Microsoft's Kidd promised that existing Smart Display owners will continue to be supported.

Joris Evers writes for IDG News Service

Read more on Mobile hardware