The debate over the future of low-cost Internet access terminals and PCs has kept industry pundits busy for several months. Now market research firm International Data Corporation is weighing in to predict that there will be a small but measurable market for the devices by the year 2000.
The IDC report also said, however, that the idea behind products like Oracle's Network Computer has been overhyped. The traditional PC in fact doesn't have to worry about competition for about five years, according to Eileen O'Brien, director of IDC's terminal research.
"As we move toward the year 2000 and electronic information sharing, commerce, and entertainment via the Internet become more universally appealing, a market for access devices other than the general-purpose PC will develop," said O'Brien in a summary of the report. "This market may be a lot smaller than the one for PCs, but it will be a market nonetheless."
IDC forecasted worldwide shipments for the year 2000 in six categories:
--PCs or general purpose PCs with Internet access will comprise 76.4 percent of total shipments
--Low-priced PCs optimized for Net access, 2.6 percent
--Internet terminals designed by terminal vendors for Net access, 3.2 percent
--Set-top boxes or devices that decode TV signals and work with wireless remotes to access the Web through cable TV, 6 percent
-Digital interactive consumer electronic machines for games and digital video disks, 11.8 percent
Regardless of the breakdown, the demand for Internet access devices of all kinds is expected to rise as consumer interest in the Web and online services continues to explode, according to a survey taken in January by market research firm NPD Group.
According to the group's findings, 6.4 million U.S. households already have at least one member who uses the Web at home, a fourfold increase over a similar survey conducted by the same group last June. Online service membership is also up 68 percent from this time last year to 7.5 million households.
The results were based upon responses from a sample of 44,800 PC and non-PC-owning households.