PC use propels Internet to mass-market status in the US



Jack Schofield

Opinion

The PC and the Internet have reached mass-market status in the US, with PCs being used in more than half of US...



Jack Schofield

Opinion

The PC and the Internet have reached mass-market status in the US, with PCs being used in more than half of US homes.

And you can forget about spotty, pizza-eating geeks. The users now coming online have average tastes and incomes, and 60% of them are women, according to a new Yankee Group survey.

Lisa Melsted, a Yankee Group analyst, said, "We're just now beginning to cross the divide between those segments of the population that have been deemed the technology haves and have-nots. What's more, for those consumers online, the Internet is becoming as much of a daily habit at home as turning on the television."

The "killer app" is, of course, e-mail - 68% of the Yankee Group's 3,500 panelists said it was their main activity online.

The unanswered question is whether PC ownership will continue to rise, driven by ever decreasing prices and free Internet services.

The problem is that the usual pundits don't have a clue. So far, all the ones who have pronounced on the issue - saying the PC would never penetrate more than 10%, or 20%, or 30% of households - have been proved wrong.

Furthermore, all those people who predicted that PCs would be replaced by simpler "Internet appliances" have also been wrong.

So far, all such attempts have flopped. Even Microsoft, Sony and Philips have failed. After four years plugging away at the idea, they still have only about a million WebTV users.

Part of the problem is that almost everything on the Web is written to work with, or work best with, Microsoft Windows. It shouldn't be, but it is. This eats away at any appliance's user base. The buyers who don't find the Internet all that interesting soon drop the service, while the ones who become keen users eventually buy a PC.

This won't always be the case. Sooner or later, every US home that could use a PC will have one - but will that be less than 60%, or 70%, or more?

There is every reason to believe appliances have a bright future. Any fool can predict that, as long as he doesn't mention the one thing that matters to companies battling to meet their quarterly sales projections - a date.

Jack Schofield is computer editor of the Guardian

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