Monday, February 11, 2008

OpenPeak home phones inspired by iPhone

By Dean Takahashi

OpenPeak's ambition is to do for the home phone what the iPhone did for cell phones. That ambition is no surprise, because former Apple Chief Executive John Sculley, a self-described student of iPhone visionary Steve Jobs, is the chairman of the start-up in Boca Raton, Fla.

OpenPeak is designing high-end touch-screen phones with seven-inch liquid crystal displays and the built-in ability to use the Internet to make free long-distance phone calls. You can access data from the Internet at the tap of a button. And when the phone isn't in use, it doubles as a digital picture frame.

Sculley said in an interview that he credits Jobs for opening doors for his company. Were it not for the iPhone, he said, phone companies such as Verizon might not have come calling for OpenPeak's designs. Verizon actually showed off a version of an OpenPeak phone behind closed doors at the Consumer Electronics Show and plans to come out with a version in the first half of this year. I have seen only pictures of it.

"When the iPhone came out, it made it a lot easier to get our product designs accepted and on the fast path to get them introduced," Sculley said.

Sculley says he's just the backer. The vision for OpenPeak's phones comes from Dan Gittleman, who founded the company in 2002. Originally, Gittleman was designing fancy remote controls for home control systems. But when he met with Sculley a few years ago, he changed his plan to create the ultimate high-end phone.

Now about 50 people work on the project, and the company has raised $50 million to date.

Like the iPhone, the first OpenPeak model has a touch screen but a much larger, seven-inch display (800 pixels by 480). You can touch multiple parts of the screen at the same time. Unlike with a cell phone, Gittleman doesn't have to worry about the limitations of a tiny package or short battery life. These phones can be plugged into wall sockets. And with big screens, you never have to worry about missing the button you want to push.

The touch screens enable the phone to have a lot of PC functions without the complexity of a computer. You can touch menus to look up contacts and dial them with a single button push. You can push a button if you want to add a new caller to a conference call. You can use the touch screen to get weather, stock prices or view YouTube videos. Gittleman expects that people will sit on the couch and look up Web sites (such as movie times) on the phone while watching TV, much the way they might use a laptop.

The first OpenPeak phone can make Voice-over-Internet-Protocol calls, send text messages, view e-mails, and download pictures and videos for display on the screen. The phone runs on a pair of 600-megahertz ARM microprocessors and has digital-signal processing capability to handle both audio and video. It has 64 megabytes of memory but no hard disk.

The phone supports Webcams, which can be attached via a USB port. It has an Ethernet connector and built-in 802.11g WiFi connectivity. Details on the launch time, customers, and pricing are still to come.

Gittleman says perhaps 40 applications are in the works for the phone, which won't be sold under the OpenPeak name. Multiple versions of the phone are in the works. For more information, go to

Asked whether he was happy to be launching a new tech product, Sculley said, "I'm still a product marketing guy at heart. The most fun here is I don't have to run it."

No comments: