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CES: The Third Screen

The problem: a houseful of gadgets and devices that all stake claim to your music, movies, pictures and video, like toddlers who amass toys and don't like to share. OpenPeak thinks it has the answer: a universal remote control on steroids that acts like a Swiss governess that can make all those unruly gadgets behave and play nice.

Openpeak

Its device is designed to be a gateway to a multitude of digital services -- the family calendar, music subscriptions, YouTube videos, on-demand movies, digital pictures, weather information, news and traffic. Oh, yeah, it's also a home phone. Instead of a Swiss governess, perhaps it's better to think of it as an overly ambitious Swiss Army knife.

It comes in several flavors and colors, but the basic components are a 7-inch touch screen and a wireless telephone handset that looks like a sleek remote control. It's little wonder that the design is reminiscent of Apple's iPhone. On the Boca Raton, Fla., company's board is John Sculley, who was chief executive of Apple from 1983 to 1993.

In a briefing at CES, Sculley said the product will be sold through cable companies and phone carriers that will use it to entice consumers to sign up for services piped through OpenPeak's device, starting in the spring. Verizon has signed up. Like cellphones, the price of the device will be subsidized and is expected to sell for under $200 for customers who sign contracts for bundled services. OpenPeak makes money selling the hardware to cable companies and carriers, who in turn hope to make money on selling services, whether it's high-speed Internet access, music subscriptions, cable TV, Internet phone service or videos on demand.

Whether consumers will bite will depend on how well OpenPeak and its partners can describe its technology to the average person. There's no question the interface is simple -- the buttons and menus are intuitive. What it does, however, is anything but.

-- Alex Pham

Photo credit: OpenPeak

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Times editorial writer Jon Healey pens opinion pieces about a variety of business issues, and blogs about technologies that are changing the entertainment industry's business model.

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