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What is an Internet Appliance?

An Internet Appliance is a specialized device designed to perform specific online tasks, like streaming media or managing smart home features, with user-friendly simplicity. Unlike general-purpose computers, these gadgets offer convenience and efficiency for everyday digital interactions. Intrigued by how these devices can streamline your life? Discover their unique capabilities and find the perfect fit for your home.
Kristina Choi
Kristina Choi

An Internet appliance is an electronic device through which one can perform various online activities. Common examples of these activities include Web surfing, emailing and online gaming. Sometimes an Internet appliance may even have extraneous features that can be used without being connected to the Internet, such as an offline datebook. However, if a system offers telephony (e.g., telecommunications) or advanced computing capabilities, it is generally not considered an Internet appliance.

Other terms associated with an Internet appliance include: information appliance, net appliance or smart appliance. These terms tend to be especially common in more technical writing, though sometimes they can also appear in regular diction. This is especially the case with the term smart appliance, though sometimes it may get confused with computerized appliances that do not connect to the Internet.

Smartphones, which connect users to the internet through a wireless network, are internet appliances.
Smartphones, which connect users to the internet through a wireless network, are internet appliances.

Regardless of the name used, all Internet appliances tend to be structured in a similar manner. Earlier systems functioned like desktop computers, though they did not have towers. Instead, the hardware was housed within the monitor or through a separate unit. As a result, the Internet appliance could not store any significant amount of data. If storage was an issue, users would have to save their info online or use an outside medium, such as a flash drive.

People can now surf the internet on their TVs.
People can now surf the internet on their TVs.

For input, users had access to a keyboard and built-in mouse. Additional inputting options generally weren’t available, since these devices are not designed to be computers. However, there were a few that could operate better due to their ability to connect to a desktop. The defunct Personal Internet Communicator (PIC) is an example. Intended to allow third-world countries easier access to the Internet, the PIC gave people the opportunity to get online through a "regular" computer. This meant that their browsing experience could not be hindered by a lack of peripherals or storage space.

Subsequent Internet appliances veered away from these styles, since innovations in mobile technology could allow the devices to become more portable. From that point forward, net appliances began to function like handheld computers, since they connected to the Web through Wi-Fi networks. This continues to be the preferred setup for most manufacturers, though there are novelty appliances. The most prominent ones were those that allowed people to surf the Web through their television sets.

However, it should be noted that even though Internet appliances have become more mobile, sales are still pretty bleak in comparison to higher-end devices. Marketing experts believe this is because the prices are not low enough to attract the right audience. Ultimately, if consumers are going to pay hundreds of dollars, they’re going to want a handheld computer or a smart phone; not an Internet appliance. Should the prices go down substantially, the consumer view will eventually change, but no one knows when or if such an event will happen.

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Discussion Comments


@Logicfest -- I see your point, but what about those Internet appliances that are very specialized and do their jobs better than a smartphone. Take your radio example. What if you had an appliance that could receive and play radio stations well.

Would you rather have that or a dock or wireless speaker for your smartphone? Which device would be cheaper? Which one would be more convenient? What happens if someone wants to listen to the radio and your smartphone isn't there? The Internet appliance would be there and that is, perhaps, the greatest selling point of the things.

It all comes down to personal preference, but I think there is some room for arguing that a dedicated, Internet appliance can be attractive so long as it is priced well and marketed to the right audience.


The last paragraph points out the real challenge to Internet appliances ever gaining popularity. Just think about an Internet appliance designed to receive and play Internet based radio stations. Couldn't you achieve the same thing with a smartphone and the right app (an app that will probably be free, by they way)?

You would be hard pressed to find anything an Internet appliance can do that a smartphone can't do. Just ask the folks at BeOS. There was a time when that company pinned its future on providing operating systems for Internet appliances. The company failed miserably. That was no accident.

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    • Smartphones, which connect users to the internet through a wireless network, are internet appliances.
      By: pizuttipics
      Smartphones, which connect users to the internet through a wireless network, are internet appliances.
    • People can now surf the internet on their TVs.
      By: viperagp
      People can now surf the internet on their TVs.