Sony took the wraps off a new version of its Airboard portable IT television yesterday and hinted that it is looking into a possible US launch.

Showing off a prototype of the updated Airboard at the Ceatec IT expo in Japan, Sony wouldn't provide any clues about when it will go onsale. However, Satoru Maeda, senior general manager of Sony's Personal IT TV Division, said people will be "surprised when they hear about the new functions".

The Airboard first went onsale in Japan a year ago. Equipped with a 10.4in colour LCD screen, the Airboard unclips from a base to resemble a tablet PC and gives users the ability to access the internet, send and receive email or watch television from anywhere within range of the base station.

Sony puts the range of the IEEE 802.11b wireless network-based device at around 30 metres — meaning house-wide coverage should be possible in all but the largest homes.

Many of the first customers were older people, Maeda said, although the Airboard's popularity spread to users in their 20s, particularly women, as it became better known. "We changed the design so it would appeal more to young ladies," Maeda said of the new model.

The original Airboard has not yet gone onsale outside Japan. Sony pulled its closest product - an internet access device called the eVilla - from North American shelves in late August, just two months after it went onsale, citing its failure to live up to expectations.

"I want to introduce this in the US as soon as possible, but this year is impossible because of the economy," Maeda said, who was similarly tight-lipped about whether a launch was planned for next year.