New Sony Device Targets College Wi-Fi Crowd

Handheld Mylo Combines Aspects of Computer and PDA

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YORK, Pa. ( -- Sony Electronics wants college students to join its "thumb-ternity."
Sony's new Mylo combines elements of both computers and PDAs in a device that can connect for free to any open Wi-Fi connection.
Sony's new Mylo combines elements of both computers and PDAs in a device that can connect for free to any open Wi-Fi connection.

That's the central message of its marketing plan for the Wi-Fi communicator it calls Mylo, short for "my life online." Mylo will connect to the web using both private and public Wi-Fi networks and Sony is going after a core group of 18- to 22-year-old "techno-socialite" users that can connect for free to any open Wi-Fi connection without carrying a notebook computer. Many college campuses and a growing number of public gathering places offer free Wi-Fi connections.

Just the fun
Mylo, which goes on sale next month for about $350, resembles the Sony PSP hand-held gaming system, but has a slide-out keyboard for e-mailing and instant messaging, and comes with Skype web-phone software built in.

"The Mylo personal communicator puts the fun parts of a computer in the palm of your hand," said John Kodera, Sony Electronics director-product marketing for personal-communication devices. "It's ideal for people who want to stay connected to their online friends and family, but not be weighed down by a PC or buffeted by charges for IM and texting on cellphones."

Beginning in late August, Sony will launch, an online fraternity, or "thumb-ternity," that students can "pledge" and become a members of, said Jim Malcolm, Sony's director-corporate marketing for lifestyle products. They can then create a thumb avatar to decorate and use online, as well as play games and interact with Mylo.

Sony also will create about a dozen videos of thumbs in college situations, with the first wave designed to pique interest and the second group showing the actual product and its use, Mr. Malcolm said. The company will also employ traditional online advertising such as banners, but also serve up the videos in unpaid searches and features on Current TV through Sony's association with the online channel. McKinney & Silver, Raleigh, N.C., is the agency.

Possible problems
Some observers say that the limited availability of Wi-Fi networks and the possible lack of security across open networks could be an issue for Sony. "It's an interesting set of capabilities, but when you start to break it down to such a tight demographic that might want to buy one, you start limiting overall sales," said Jupiter Research analyst Michael Gartenberg. "When you're asking consumers to carry an extra device, not only is it a question of 'Is there room?' but more importantly, 'Will that device replace something else?' It doesn't really replace anything I'm already carrying."

Still, others are excited about the potential for a voice-over internet protocol (VoIP) mobile device. Influential blogger Michael Arrington of TechCrunch wrote, "This could be the Wi-Fi device for Skype that we've all been waiting for."

Sony has cut deals with Yahoo Messenger, Google Talk and Skype to allow users to access those same computer-based services on Mylo, but not other popular services such as AIM or MSN. Skype plans to offer free phone calls withing the U.S. and to Canada for a limited time. Users will also be able to access other web-based e-mail systems. Mylo comes preloaded with an Opera web browser and the ability to store music and photos as well as access other users' data with permission.
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