America Online?s merger with Netscape could bring with it some fast, ultra-efficient ways of browsing the Internet, it claims, but analysts are sceptical.
One of the ambitious strategies of AOL?s $4.2 billion takeover of Netscape is to quickly push out a host of Net surfing gadgets on to the market, ranging from smart mobile phones with screens and wireless pocket PCs, to flat panel screens on the fridge or microwave.
AOL has millions of subscribers, but the vast majority access the Internet via their PC. By introducing new ways to surf, AOL is confident it can bring in more subscribers and widen its advertising pull.
It also wants to customise its services so that subscribers can work out a detailed list of what they want from its channels. Together AOL and Netscape combined currently reach around 70 per cent of Americans online.
Analysts believe there definitely will be a market for inexpensive ways to get on the Internet that do not require investing in a PC, but the key is in being very selective.
"If Internet services are a natural function of a product - such as adding Web access to a mobile phone - they can find a consumer market, but simply grafting them on to a kitchen appliance is far too niche and appeals only to gadget freaks,? Mike Welch, an analyst with market research company Inteco told 'Newswire'.
?This type of gadget market is very limited. The PC will undoubtedly remain the main platform for the Internet for the forseeable future, with digital TV offering some interactivity," he continued.
A lot will also depend on the willingness of consumer electronics makers to invest in manufacturing futuristic Internet products. AOL is hoping that companies like Sony and Philips will work with AOL?s content, Netscape?s browser technology and Sun Microsystems? Java programming language to create innovative devices, which could be out as early as next year, according to industry sources.
The AOL-Netscape arch rival, Microsoft, however, has been working hard on promoting its Web TV, but still has only around 400,000 subscribers in the US. ?This is still an extremely small take-up and shows how niche these ideas really are right now,? said Welch.
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