After an absence of a decade, Philips Electronics is making personal computers again, the company said on Thursday. The Netherlands-based electronics conglomerate, which abandoned the PC business in the early 1990s after suffering big losses, quietly introduced six models together with British retailer Dixons earlier this week.
The Dutch company said it had not wanted to draw attention to a "soft" launch of products that would only be available in a limited number of shops in six European countries, including Britain, Ireland, Spain, Italy and Nordic countries. "It is a tactical decision to take an opportunity that came along," a spokesman said.
The deal with Dixons means Philips has found another retail outlet for the Internet-connected products it has co-branded Streamium. The PCs, branded Philips-Freeline, have been preconfigured to work with other Streamium products, so consumers can simply stream music from their PCs to their Hi-Fi set or television over a wireless connection.
Until now, Philips aimed to sell Streamium products through telecoms companies as part of a broadband Internet bundle.
Otherwise the Philips computers are standard items that run the same hardware and software as other PCs. Philips itself is already a major supplier of displays and CD and DVD drives to computer makers such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard, with whom it will now also compete.
The PC business is still a cut-throat industry where profit margins are thin or absent, except in the case of a few top players including Dell, Windows and Office software maker Microsoft and Pentium microprocessor producer Intel.
Philips is the world's biggest lighting maker, a top three hospital equipment maker, Europe's biggest consumer electronics producer and the region's number three in semiconductors.