By WALTER S. MOSSBERG
For years, there have been sporadic efforts to create a digital device
that would be simpler and more reliable than a personal computer, yet
large enough and capable enough to carry out the most common tasks PCs
The movement for such "information appliances," which I supported, was
especially strong in the early and mid-1990s, when computers running
Microsoft Windows were far more complicated and crash-prone than they
Several companies tried to build desktop and laptop-computer-size
information appliances, but none of the designs captivated the public,
and they cost almost as much as a cheap PC. The movement lost steam by
2001, when both Microsoft and Apple Computer were producing
better-designed, more stable PC operating systems.
Information appliances actually did arrive, but in a different guise
-- the smart cellphone and the advanced personal digital assistant, or
PDA. These hand-held devices are gradually accumulating the hardware
power and software selection needed to do most core PC tasks, like Web
surfing, email and even document creation.
Now, however, a small Massachusetts startup company is making another
go at the full-size information appliance. The company, Pepper
Computer, is launching a slick-looking tablet device called the Pepper
Pad, which it hopes will attract PC users and nonusers alike as a
simple, convenient tool for using the Internet, playing digital media,
keeping a journal and more.
The idea is to offer something as convenient and simple as a
Web-connected PDA without the complexity and security problems of a
PC. The rugged device even has a tiny, built-in keyboard that can be
used for thumb typing. It also comes with desktop software that lets
users wirelessly synchronize the Pepper Pad's contents with a Windows
PC (Mac compatibility is in the works).
In my tests of the Pepper Pad over the past few days, I found it
mostly did what was promised, but it isn't quite as easy and intuitive
to use as its makers claim. Many of its built-in programs offer
limited functionality and seem rough around the edges. And, at $799,
it costs more than some laptops and much more than a basic desktop PC.