eMachines Gears Up to Take on Rocketboard

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The keyboard has become a competitive space for marketers in a very short period of time. As of April 15, eMachines, which calls itself a manufacturer of high-value computers, will offer its latest generation of machines, complete with 17 "hot keys" that transport users directly to sponsor sites such as ESPN.com, eBay and TicketsUpFront.com.

Rocketboard Inc., New York, announced a similar innovation recently and will begin shipping keyboards for the $7.95 cost of shipping this week. The keyboard features 18 keys linking to more than 300 Web merchants.

While not direct competitors -- eMachines offers entire PC systems for less than $1,000 -- both companies appear to have had the same brainstorm.

Steve Chadima, vice president of marketing for eMachines, Irvine, CA, is not surprised. "There's going to be more functional keyboards out there over the next couple months," he said. "I think we're ahead of the pack in terms of shipping them with the computer."

He expects market leaders like Microsoft and Compaq will soon follow suit because of the convenience the buttons offer consumers. "Nearly half of our users are first-time PC buyers," he said. "We're trying to make everything easier to use. Buttons on the keyboard for various services and information sites add value to the experience."

Marketers certainly like this new innovation because less experienced users will be more likely to use the keys versus searching for a competitor's site.

For consumers looking to buy tickets, the keys will be invaluable, said Jeff Greenfield, vice president of sales for TicketsUpFront.com. "Someone used to being on the Internet knows what to do and tends to forget about the millions of new people coming online who are clueless as to what to do," he said. "Me and you could search AltaVista for concert tickets and it's no big deal. For newbies, they're thinking about how to get their e-mail to work."

To persuade consumers to try the buttons, eMachines offers a placemat with all new keyboards highlighting its various functions. Additionally, companies such as TicketsUpFront.com are offering a coupon offer in a welcome pack enclosed in each new computer's box. "That will introduce eMachines consumers to our site," said Greenfield. "They can go in and register and get a discount for purchase online of 5 to 10 percent."

Companies that signed deals with eMachines, which sold 2 million computers within its first 15 months of existence, will get significant reach among consumers. As for Rocketboard, it is hoping to give away 100,000 keyboards this year.

Rocketboard derives its revenue from purchases made by its owners. eMachines makes money on computer sales, as well as the deals struck with its button vendors. The deals are generally signed for all computers that ship within a six-month period. TicketsUpFront.com signed on for a year.

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