San Diego (CA) - Sony today announced a portable communicator device that connects to any open Wi-Fi hotspot and enable its users to stay in contact with friends via email, chat and voice chat.
Mobile communicators are not a new idea, we have seen several devices come and go especially in the past five years. Probably the most noteworthy is AOL's Mobile Communicator that tried to make AOL "Anywhere" a reality by merging cellphone connectivity with email and instant messaging functionality into a pocket-sized form factor back in 2001.
Sony's new Mylo - short for "my life online" - aims at a similar customer group but comes in a more stylish design and one significant key difference: While, for example, the AOL Mobile Communicator required a cellular network and an AOL subscription, the Mylo, runs without any contracted services, at least in theory: The AOL device wasn't cheap with around $40 in total monthly subscription charges - the new Sony device lacks the cellphone feature and relies on Wi-Fi broadband connectivity to communicate.
To a certain degree, the approach of the Sony can be compared with the "Cybiko," a handheld device that surfaced late in 2000, was acquired by AOL in 2001, and dropped again soon thereafter. While it was marketed towards children under 12 years old, the Cybiko creators was built on free wireless connectivity and some entertainment features such as multiplayer gaming and chat into their devices. The Mylo uses the same concept with application needs of today's world: It comes with a 2.4" (320x240 pixel) color screen about 920 MB of free space to store and playback MP3, WMA or ATRAC encoded music, MPEG-4 videos and JPEG image files. Storage capacity can be expanded through a Memory Stick slot.
Communication features include preinstalled Google Talk, Skype and Yahoo Messenger instant messengers. The software can be used for text and voice chat. Email is supported through web mail services such as Yahoo Mail and the Gmail web mail services. Sony did not say whether it will support additional IM and mail services on the Mylo.
At this time, the true connectivity capability of the Mylo is somewhat unclear. According to Sony, the device requires an "open" hotspot to connect to the Internet. While the device will include a listing of about 20,000 hotspots to assist users in searching for Internet access, it also means that Mylo will not be able to connect to the Internet anytime and anywhere its potential users may want to. The lack of a cellphone connectivity option could turn out as one of the major shortcomings of the device, despite the fact the additional cost. The same goes for fee-based hotspot services such as T-Mobile's Wi-Fi network.
Pricewise, Sony stays in the range or the original AOL Mobile Communicator. AOL sold its device for about $330 in 2001; Sony said that it will charge about $350 for the Mylo. While the feature set of the Cybiko was very basic and there was no fancy color screen, no video and audio playback, the unit was substantially cheaper. The handheld sold for around $130.