CES - The Internet refrigerator: back from the dead?

Whirlpool unveils fridge with attachable modules for a laptop and other electronic devices.

Five years ago, LG Appliances combined a refrigerator with a PC and it was a colossal flop. Now Whirlpool is taking their shot, albeit with a somewhat different approach.

Shown Sunday at the Digital Experience event during CES in Las Vegas, Whirlpool's GD5VVAXT fridge (US$1999) allows owners to hang a laptop, digital photo frame or iPod dock in modules on the left door panel. These modules have what they call a "centralpark" connection that attaches to a power outlet on the top of the left door panel.

The company says that 30% of laptop, photo frame and digital music player owners use these devices in the kitchen. Putting them on the fridge saves counterspace and centralizes them in one centralized location, the company says.

Modules with the "centralpark" connection can be used interchangeably, and can be easily removed. The first of these modules contained the eight-inch CEIVA Digital Photo Frame (US$249) and is currently available at retailers. Sunday, the company demonstrated modules that included the Clio Vu web tablet, Cozi family organizational software, Brandmotion iPod speaker system and the Quartet Qnote Message Center. Prices were not announced for the new products and modules, except for the software, which is free.

The Clio Vu is a convertible tablet computer that the company said can be used to clear refrigerators of sticky notes, traditional notepads and calendars, while keeping grocery lists and schedules organized. Equipped with Wi-Fi, the laptop can be removed easily from its module and used as a traditional notebook or, using the touch screen, or handwriting device can be used directly on the fridge to update their schedules and keep track of their household activities. It can also be used to watch movies or browse the web.

Cozi is a free software and a Web service includes the Cozi Shopping List feature, which allows owners to add items then receive the list as a text message on their mobile phone, when away from home.

The Quartet Qnote Message Center is for the less digitally inclined. The message center is made of tempered glass and a dry-erase writing surface and ambient surface illumination.

Brandmotion's iPod speaker system can also be attached to the refrigerator. Basically a docking station, it four large membrane-type buttons for easy use and cleanup. The docking station will hold any size iPod and is designed to withstand the frequent opening and closing of the freezer door.

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Ramon G. McLeod

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