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Convenience, Not Technology To Drive Internet

LAS VEGAS – The PC is not dead, Barry Schuler, president of AOL’s Interactive Services Group, told his audience in a speech delivered during International CES this month.

AOL, with its more than 26 million users, is at the forefront of a revolution being led by consumers who aren’t buying technology, but convenience, Schuler said. And with the AOL/Time Warner merger pending, this new company will help drive the convergence of many devices, particularly computers and TVs.

In this new millennium (which Schuler pointed out began this January, not last), the home will be transformed. “Your TV in five or 10 years, I won’t speculate on [exactly] when, will essentially be a computer,” and phone calls, music and information will all come through that hub.

PCs are important at work and in the home and will be for a long time, Schuler promised. While there is a whole new generation of devices out there courtesy of broadband and wireless, “the PC is not dead but now the hub of your experience.”

The bottom line is that it’s about much more than “you’ve got mail” these days. “Consumers find the Internet empowering,” he said, which is why they’re adopting more online activities. “The habituation curve is growing, a clear sign of consumer adoption growing year over year.”

Consumers are indeed online today (AOL users are online 66 minutes a day, five to seven days a week) communicating, shopping, managing their money, doing research and getting information on demand.

According to Schuler’s statistics, AOL users send 166 million e-mails and 660 million “Instant Messages” daily, and 56 percent of consumers engage in e-commerce. Also, AOL members spent $20 billion in online shopping last year and $4.6 billion during the 2000 holiday season, representing 84 percent growth from 1999.

Certainly, the AOL/Time Warner merger is anticipated to have tremendous reach with its combined 119 million paying subscribers and ability to touch consumers 2.5 billion times a month, said Schuler, who added that this will accelerate the rate of acceptance of transformational products and services.

For instance, one of AOL’s latest services, AOL By Phone, launched several months ago, lets consumers dial 1-800-AOL-1234 and have their e-mail read back to them. (“We just took our millionth call,” Schuler said.)

AOL TV will ultimately bring AOL services to the living room. E-mail was the first real mass-market application with the Internet, he detailed. And where is it now? Schuler said that in the near future, 75 percent of people expect more people to know their e-mail address than their phone number.