IT'S been two decades since the global personal computer
revolution was launched from from a California garage.
Today, 2 out of every 3 American households with children and an
income greater than $50,000 have a personal computer. Pentium chips
and Windows 95 are as much a part of the consumer lexicon as Egg
McMuffins and Levi's. And computer forecasters say PC sales
worldwide will overtake sales of television sets before 2000.
But for all the hoopla and Las Vegas glitz that surrounds this
week's annual gathering of the industry, known as COMDEX, there are
hints that the traditional double-digit growth of personal
computers may soon be slowing.
The Internet is being flagged by some as a potential threat.
Others say the dizzying pace of change is alienating some
consumers. "I tend to buy the latest, fastest, and greatest system
and programs out there," writes David Smith on the CompuServe
on-line service. "And I am almost getting a little tired of the
changeover and new learning required to keep up."
For the moment, though, business is booming for hardware and
software companies alike. Manufacturers of computer chips are
scrambling to build new chip factories. Spot shortages have cropped
up in everything from computer batteries to video-display picture
tubes. "Across the board, demand remains strong," says Tim Curran,
manager of Panasonic's computer-products group in Secaucus, N.J.
Many manufacturers expect a strong Christmas season. Dataquest,
a San Jose, Calif., research firm, forecasts a record 17 million
PCs will be sold in the final three months of the year, up 21
percent over the same period last year. "The mood here is pretty
upbeat," says COMDEX spokeswoman Sue Lonergan.
But the rosy predictions begin to fade beyond Christmas. For
example: The red-hot market for home PCs is up an estimated 26
percent this year. But it should slow down to 15 percent or less,
according to several analysts. Sales of drives for CD-ROMs, the
optical discs large enough to store an encyclopedia, will jump an
estimated 62 percent this year but only 25 percent next year,
forecasts Freeman Associates, a Santa Barbara, Calif.,
By 2000, the Semiconductor Industry Association estimates annual
chip sales will double worldwide. But much of that growth depends
on sales of personal computers.
Computer companies have targeted the home because that's where
the opportunity lies. While most American businesses that need a
computer have a computer, only 1 out of 3 American homes has one. …