Global Internet users will soar to 147 million [M] -- more than the population of Japan -- while World Wide Web portal sites follow the consolidation trend, Internet stocks take a "dramatic" correction and PC prices continue to fall, according to 1999 predictions from International Data Corp. (IDC).
The Fourth Annual Predictions report by Frank Gens, a senior vice president for Internet research at IDC, also forecasts that there will be more U.S. women than men using the Internet. And a majority of Internet users will, for the first time, live somewhere other than the U.S. Whatever their gender or location, Internet users will find fewer major players on the Web as mergers and acquisitions make headlines in 1999.
Gens envisions Yahoo Inc. entering a partnership with TimeWarner Inc. or CBS Corp., while Microsoft Corp. jumps into the fray, buying a major portal to round out its Internet portfolio. Compaq Corp. might sell AltaVista and Infoseek Corp. and Lycos Inc. might merge. A major global financial services company could buy E-trade, which enables users to buy and sell stocks online.
Internet access will become common in retail stores and the trend will continue toward online customer service, with "live" salespeople ready at their computer keyboards to assist visitors at retail Web sites. Half of the U.S. households that have Internet access will shop online in 1999 and retail Web sites increasingly will be voice enabled so that users and customer service representatives can talk to each other, according to the IDC forecast.
Besides computers, Internet users increasingly will turn to their TVs for access. More than 3 million [M] Internet TVs will be in use in 1999, which also will bring a trend toward home networking with multiple users online simultaneously.
The surge in online use undoubtedly will be pushed by a continued drop in PC prices. While that forecast is fairly routine among market researchers these days, IDC also is making a less-common prediction that disruptions from the year 2000 computer bug will be as low as 0.2 percent for business-critical applications.