Information appliances will rule, predicts a new study from market research firm IDC - but forget about the consumer network computer (NC).
About 55.7 million smart, Internet aware consumer devices will be sold in 2002, up from three million last year, predicts the study - an annual growth rate of no less than 76 per cent.
The term information appliances covers various consumer electronic devices with Internet capability. Three types of these appliances will account for most of the growth - Internet enabled handheld devices, gaming consoles and NetTVs.
While smart handhelds will be the biggest sellers by 2002, they will mainly play in corporate markets. The number two appliance will be a gaming console ? a market that will remain dominated by current frontrunners Sony, Nintendo and Sega.
But the fastest moving category for the consumer, the IDC study finds, is the NetTV ? a generic term for set-top boxes that allow consumers to view information from the Internet on their television sets.
NetTV devices have often been ridiculed for bad performance, high price and difficult usage. But while devices such as Microsoft?s WebTV have been slow to take off, Sean Kaldor, vice president of IDC consumer devices research, believes that is about to change. ?Cable companies have bought into this approach, and so have satellite companies," he said.
This year, a total of 1.4 million NetTV systems will be installed worldwide, IDC forecasts. Microsoft?s WebTV will account for about 225,000 of those. Next year, NetTV sales will rise to 4.3 million, and in 2000 to over 11 million.
Surprisingly absent from the top of IDC's information appliance ranking is the device that launched this product category in the first place - the Java based network computer.
?Our view is that the consumer NC client has got squeezed out of the market by cheap PCs and by the efforts going on with NetTVs," said Kaldor. The screenphone, another early favourite of Internet gurus, has also disappeared from view.
Kaldor said Java remains a candidate to be the platform of choice for virtually every type of appliance. But at the moment, he said, Microsoft is doing better in winning over consumer electronics vendors for its Windows CE platform. ?So far, the wins are more for CE and some of the embedded OSs [than for Java]," he said.
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