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Devices bringing the Internet to the TV will lead a massive 76 per cent annual growth rate for the information appliance market between now and 2002, an IDC report, Forecast of the Worldwide Information Appliance Marketplace, has predicted. The company also highlighted the Internet-enabled game console and PDAs as important platforms for information appliance. On the other hand, consumer NCs have failed to ignite the marketplace. According to IDC, there are will be some six million or so NetTV units around by the end of the year, 1.4 million of them being sold in 1998 alone. It expects the overall figure to rise to 55.7 million by 2002. It's not an unrealistic number -- in some ways its positively conservative -- when you consider that IDC is figuring not only WebTV-type boxes into the equation but digital TV decoders, which will provide Internet access through broadcasters' interactive TV services. In the UK, Sky Digital isn't offering Internet access yet, but it intends to shortly, as will terrestrial digital broadcaster On and cable-based digital services. Ditto the US digital broadcasters. But what IDC doesn't appear to have attempted to predict is what the take-up of these services will be -- will 55.7 million digital TV boxes mean 55.7 million more Internet users? This is the question on which the entire information appliance business is predicated, and the fact is, as the report puts it, "the consumer NC client is derailed", the answer may not be what the gurus of general public Internet access want to hear. IDC asserts that the failure of the NC to take off has largely come about because of the arrival of low-cost PCs, and it's an entirely reasonable assertion. It's also very telling. If the putative NC buyer opts for a cheap PC instead, it's because he or she wants to do all the other things you can do with a PC -- write letters, do home finances, engage in a few crafty Quake sessions -- and not with an NC. Fine, but what about all those folk who don't want to do all that -- users who just see the Web as a kind of souped-up Teletext? Well, IDC's prognosis says there effectively aren't any. Internet access simply isn't on most consumers' agenda. So the likelihood is, of the many buyers of digital TV receivers -- assuming the general public wants digital TV, and there are strong reasons to suggest they might not, at least for some time -- relatively few will use their set-tops for Internet access. Still, there are areas where Internet connectivity will play a key role, and that's where IDC's references to game consoles and PDAs (now called Smart Handheld Devices, or SHeDs -- how quickly the IT industry tires of perfectly reasonable acronyms...) come in. The next generation of games consoles will support multi-player gaming via the Internet either through built-in modems or add-on packs. To what extent they will also provide access to the Web for information retrieval is less clear, but they will have to have some way to displaying Web pages (to allow users to find opponents and bouts). In any case, why prevent your machine being bought as an Internet access device even if there's only a slim chance people will want that rather than games? That's clealy the approach Sega is taking with its Windows CE-based DreamCast machine. IDC reckons there will be some 15 million Internet-enabled consoles in use by 2002. ® Click for more stories

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