In 1998, the Internet will evolve into a medium for the masses, a new report predicts.
According to a study by International Data Corp., about 100 million people in the United States will be hooked up to cyberspace by the end of next year.
And, IDC said, about 25 percent of the nation's homes are expected to have connections to the Net's World Wide Web next year.
"The mass-market Web will materialize in the U.S." in 1998, IDC reported.
Ultracheap but powerful personal computers will drive the online push into the home, researchers said. Today's $1,000 computers will seem expensive indeed, once a new crop of PCs sprouts in stores in 1998.
Current computers will yield to PCs that will be available at an eye-popping $500 to $750. Even after buying a printer and a big monitor, consumers can expect to pay less than $1,000 for everything.
"It's very easy, it's almost a trivial process, for people to get connected to the Internet these days," said Frank Gens, a senior research analyst with IDC. "All you need is to buy a computer and hook up a phone line to it."
The Internet revolution in the home will also get a boost from a new kind of electronic gizmo called an information appliance.
These gadgets will come in the guise of an intelligent phone with a screen that lets people view and send e-mail and access Internet sites. Some appliances will be like the WebTV machine, which melds computer, Internet and television technology. Others will be game consoles that connect players directly to the Internet, where they can enjoy multiplayer contests.
This new generation of devices will be even cheaper than computers and cost as little as $100 to $200.
"In a lot of homes, people will have both the appliance and the PC," Gens said. "The appliance won't replace the PC; it will supplement the PC. These devices will be able to do a few things very well, and cheaply."
Some analysts, however, are skeptical that information appliances will appear in huge numbers during 1998.
"We're at the front end of the emergence of this stuff," said Rob Enderle, analyst with Giga Information Group. "You won't see things in real mass-market volume until around 2000."
Enderle does agree that computers costing as little as $500 (excluding the monitor's price) will be common in 1998. He also believes flat-screen monitors will start to drop in price next year, bringing them close to the cost desired by individuals.
IDC believes computers reside in 45 percent of the nation's homes. The market researcher predicts that number will swell next year. "We're looking at a 60 to 80 percent penetration rate if the PC suppliers fulfill our prediction and hit the $500 to $750 price level," Gens said.
Even if IDC's predictions fall a bit short, it's plain that the home user will receive more attention than ever from Silicon Valley and its outposts.
Pub Date: 12/21/97