Telechips Corp. has created an advanced, Windows-based screen phone touted as a true hybrid of a telephone and personal computer.
The new product, known as ThinPhone, is designed for business use, though its Reno-based manufacturer said it should eventually find its way to homes as well.
This business-first marketing strategy contrasts with the consumer- focused sales approach of other screen phone manufacturers, such as On-Line Resources and Communications Corp. and Citicorp.
"This is not designed to compete in the low-end market," said Randall Pinato, the Telechips vice president for sales and marketing.
"This product will work its way into the home."
Telechips has been testing ThinPhones for more than a year through at least one unnamed bank partner and a variety of telecommunications partners, according to Mr. Pinato
Unlike the familiar screen phones being marketed by Citicorp and NationsBank Corp., the Telechips phone provides graphical as well as character-based displays, supporting most Microsoft applications.
The screen phone also incorporates a powerful modem and a layer of software makes the device "more robust" for interfacing with different protocols, Mr. Pinato said.
It also supports multiple phone lines and can be hooked onto a regular computer keyboard, so the customer is not stuck using the average "chicklet keyboard," standard on most screen phones, he added.
Telechips officials say businesses are more likely to latch onto this technology faster, using it to replace or complement their phone systems.
And businesspeople may also be more willing to cough up the price cost for these phones, which can range from several hundred dollars to almost $1,000, depending on the configuration of features.
Experts said the device blurs the distinction between the telephone and personal computer more than any screen phone to hit the market.
Although it is still in the prototype stages, the ThinPhone has been tested by companies inside and outside of the financial services industry.
In December, Telechips officially announced signing on a raft of new customers, including Dun & Bradstreet, Ameritech, and GTE.
Although this screen phone's positioning means it may not compete directly with devices such as those made by Philips or Online Resources, the ThinPhone may presage a new stage in remote banking.
Many banking industry experts have said that eventually all of today's remote delivery mechanisms for banking - personal computers, telephones, interactive television - will become integrated into a new, expandable appliance or several of them.
Even officials from Microsoft - perhaps the most ardent cheerleader for the personal computer - see the potential for changing channels in the future of banking service delivery.
"We still believe the PC will obliterate all other devices in its path," said Charles Fitzgerald, a product manager for personal systems at Microsoft. "But we also believe there's room in certain niches for other devices."
Mr. Fitzgerald sees Telechips' approach as the safest bet: leveraging the software component by placing it on the telephone medium. He likened it to "providing a cheap PC platform in a phone skin."
This screen phone also has the advantage of open architecture, so it can conceivably connect more easily to personal computers and facilitate an expanded array of activities.