Sony Aims New Handheld Wireless Device at College Students

Hoping to tap into the growth of wireless networks across college campuses, other public spaces and within homes, Sony Corp (SNE). will announce Tuesday a new pocket-sized gadget for instant messaging and other Internet-based communications.

The Sony Mylo, [pronounced "mye-low",] slated for availability in September at a retail price of about $350, is a first-of-its-kind product that uses Wi-Fi networks, analysts say.

It is not a cellular phone and thus doesn't carry monthly service fees. And though it could handle Web-based e-mail services, it doesn't support corporate e-mail programs.

Instead, the slim, oblong-shaped gizmo, which has a 2.4-inch display and slides open to expose a thumb keyboard, is specifically geared toward young, mainstream consumers for messaging and Internet-based calls, commonly known as VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) calls.

As long as a Wi-Fi network is accessible, a Mylo user could chat away or browse the Web.

The Mylo — which stands for "my life online," — will be marketed toward 18- to 24-year-olds, the multitasking generation that relies heavily on instant messaging and is already viewing e-mail as passe, Sony said.

The consumer-electronics giant has partnered with Yahoo Inc. (YHOO) and Google Inc. (GOOG) to integrate their instant-messaging services, and is looking to expand Mylo's support to other services as well, most notably the leading messaging provider, Time Warner Inc.'s (TWX) America Online.

Sony has also teamed with eBay Inc.'s (EBAY) Skype VoIP service, which offers free voice chats for its registered users.

The so-called personal communicator doubles as a portable media player. It can play music, photos and videos that are stored on its internal 1 gigabyte of flash memory or optional Memory Stick card. It also can stream songs between Mylo users within the same network, as long as the users grant permission to share their music files.

[The Mylo supports music files in MP3 format, as well as Sony's proprietary ATRAC and Microsoft's (MSFT) WMA formats, Reuters reported.]

Danielle Levitas, an industry analyst at market researcher IDC, called the Mylo a "unique, compelling" product, but said it might fare better at a lower price of $299 and with added partners such as AOL.

In addition, though Wi-Fi is spreading across colleges, coffee houses, airports and even entire cities, Levitas said the wireless technology isn't ubiquitous enough yet to help Sony break Mylo out of a niche market.

"You need enough Wi-Fi out there to make this a compelling product to reach a wider audience," Levitas said.

Still, Sony is betting that Mylo will draw great interest not just among college students, but also among households where youngsters might be fighting over the use of a computer just for chatting or Web surfing.

"Our Mylo personal communicator lets you have the fun parts of a computer in the palm of your hand," said John Kodera, a director of product marketing at Sony.

Sony said the new gadget will be sold only in the United States. It will be available through Sony's online store and at select retailers in college towns.