eBay Gets Hot Spot on Netpliance Keypad

Internet-only computer maker Netpliance, Inc. (Nasdaq: NPLI) announced Wednesday that it has landed a deal with online auction giant eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY) that will allow users to access the auction site with one push of a button.

Under the agreement, Netpliance will install a “hot key” linking directly to eBay on all of its i-opener devices. The mini-computers, which look like a cross between laptops and desktop PCs, allow users direct Web access and e-mail service. The i-opener costs about $99 (US$) and users pay a monthly fee of about $21 per month for service.

First for Netpliance

The eBay agreement is a coup for Netpliance, which has allied with other content providers in the past. The company hopes to sell e-tailers on the notion that buying real estate on i-opener keypads will help drive customers to their sites.

“We believe that the powerful combination of simple, one-touch access and the placement of i-openers in high traffic areas of the home, such as the kitchen, will mean repeated visits to eBay’s online community,” said Bill Cobb, Netpliance Vice President and General Manager of Consumer Sales and Marketing.

One-Touch Pizza

Netpliance has previously inked agreements with content providers, such as Go.com, eCal Corp., eHow, Inc., and Talk City, Inc.

The devices already have a “pizza key” that will offer one-touch connection to pizza shops located near a user’s home and a “shopping” key that links to a directory of online stores.

Bringing More Customers Online

According to International Data Corporation (IDC), the worldwide Internet appliance market will reach 55.7 million units, or $15.3 billion in sales, by 2002 — up from an expected 13.9 million units, or about $4.6 billion, in 1999. “Web access has become a key application for consumers, driving demand for devices that provide faster and easier access to the Internet,” IDC said.

eBay Chief Operating Officer Brian Swette said that by simplifying Internet access, Netpliance is tapping a deep well of new users who are intimidated by computers. “We hope this relationship will open the world of eBay’s online trading community to a new segment of the population,” he added.

The aggressive Netpliance was virtually unknown prior to taking a gamble with a high-price Super Bowl Sunday ad, which reportedly raised its visibility by “1000 percent.” However, after making a strong debut in mid-March, the company has slid along with the rest of NASDAQ and is now below its offering price.

Last month, the Austin, Texas-based company announced it would reconfigure the hardware of its i-opener machines to prevent them from being modified into full computers, as some hobbyists had reportedly done.

Busy Week for eBay

eBay, meanwhile, has had a busy week. It announced a partnership Thursday with iPrint.com that will allow eBay’s top sellers to order business cards and other stationery with the eBay logo.

On Monday, eBay announced opening of a Toronto headquarters for its Canadian auction site, only to learn that its intended domain name of ebay.ca was already in use by a software firm based in Nova Scotia.

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