Thursday, September 01, 2005

Science fiction?

Believers in this future point to encouraging statistics. Parks Associates, a research firm in Texas that specialises in the digital home (and which organised the conference at which Mr Burke gave his keynote address) surveyed a group of internet users and found that 84% of them use their PCs to store digital photos, 59% to store music, 36% for video clips and 26% for personal videos. If one includes devices other than PCs—such as TiVo, a popular digital video recorder—17% also store movies and TV shows. In theory, these people could soon avail themselves of new wireless-networking technologies, such as an emerging standard called “ultrawideband”, to pipe all this content from their collections to electronic picture frames, screens and portable devices.

That is not at all what they want to do today, however. Another study by Parks Associates found that 89% of people with a home-computer network felt that the relatively modest goal of sharing internet access is its most important function, with printer-sharing the second priority. Worse, 27% of people who bought network gear said that they ran into problems during configuration, leading many to call the help desk of their internet service provider (who may or may not be responsible for the problem) at an estimated annual cost of $1.4 billion to that industry. Even downloading entertainment, as opposed to buying it on discs, appears over-hyped. According to a study by the OECD, there were over 230 websites offering 1m tracks in America and Europe at the end of 2004. But these online sales accounted for less than 2% of total music revenues; even with fast growth, they are projected to rise only by 5-10% by 2008.

There is a third possibility. This is that the wars continue, but consumers continue not to care. As John Barrett, research director at Parks Associates, says, “it seems that we've concocted a new variant of the ‘paperless' office.” This, you recall, was the consensus a decade or so ago among technophiles (but almost nobody else), that computer technology would save our forests by freeing us from having to read and write on paper. Today's variant, says Mr Barrett, is “no more tapes, CDs, DVDs, discs.” In other words, expect them to be around for a very long time to come.

From the article "Science fiction?"

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