SONY'S MAGIC LINK AIMS TO AVERT NEWTON FIASCO

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Sony Electronics' new Magic Link personal communicator is going down the same road as Apple Computer's Newton, but Sony is trying to avoid the same rout.

There are remarkable similarities. Sony and its partner, AT&T Corp., in the first six months will nearly match Newton's estimated introductory marketing budget of $10 million to $12 million.

"We're shy of the 10 to 12 number, but not that shy," said Brian Sroub, VP of Sony Electronics' Personal Information Co.

Like Newton, Magic Link weighs about 1 pound, manages electronic mail, sends faxes, and works as a pager and electronic organizer. Also like the first $700 Newton a year ago, the $995 Magic Link is being sold in consumer electronics stores where shoppers can try the device at special interactive kiosks.

But there are key differences. While Apple overpromised on early Newton features like handwriting recognition, Mr. Sroub said Sony decided initially not to offer some features, like extensive wireless communication abilities, that aren't reliable enough yet to be in a device with Sony's brand.

Unlike the first Newton, the initial Magic Link seems to work as promised and is getting good reviews.

"I'm wowed by this" Magic Link, said Stewart Alsop, editor in chief of InfoWorld and a harsh Newton critic.

Magic Link is the first device to run on software from General Magic, a high-profile start-up, and to offer AT&T's new Per-sonaLink services. PersonaLink includes e-mail, electronic shopping and so-called intelligent agents that over time will be able to track stock prices, make travel arrangements and automatically handle other routine tasks.

Sony is targeting a base of about 6 million businesspeople who work extensively out of the office and are early adopters of technology. Sony and AT&T are jointly funding a campaign to sell Magic Link and PersonaLink, handled by AT&T agency Wunderman Cato Johnson, New York, and by Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, for Sony. AT&T is combing its databases to look for prospects.

Mr. Sroub said more than half the ad budget will go into direct mail; and more than half of that will pay for expensive follow-up pieces, such as videotapes, to prospects that bite at the first drop.

Print ads late this year in business, computer, travel and do-it-yourself magazines will take up most of the remaining budget, with in-flight commercials rounding out the campaign.

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