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Cybernaut

Online shopping continues to increase

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In the last few months I’ve bought airline tickets, special bike pedals, and some new bike lights online. I’ve also shopped online for countless other items I wanted to buy in regular stores, but wanted to compare prices and read reviews.

I do feel a little guilty buying online because of the impact on brick and mortar stores. I bought the airline tickets because the sale was only available to online buyers. I bought the bike pedals because they aren’t available in Canada outside of Quebec, and I couldn’t get in contact with a Quebec dealer. I bought the bike lights at Mountain Equipment Co-op because they weren’t available in Whistler and I need them for this Thursday’s WORCA Halloween ride.

But while I do try to buy locally whenever possible, the lure of online shopping is hard to resist. It’s easy, sometimes cheaper (even with shipping costs) and the selection is impossible to beat.

That’s probably why, according to a new study by ACNeilsen, roughly 10 per cent of the world’s population, over 627 million people, are now online shopping. In some European countries, including Germany, Austria and the U.K., 95 per cent of people have made purchases online. In the U.S. that number is 89 per cent.

Books are the number one item purchased online, with about 212 million online shoppers buying books online.

In a tie for second with 135 million shoppers are plane reservations, and DVDs and video games are second.

Also:

• Over 112 million people have paid for music downloads or CDs.

• Over 106 million have purchased electronic items, including cameras.

• Almost 98 million have bought computer hardware.

• Over 86 million have made hotel or tour bookings.

While these numbers are impressive, the suggestion that online shoppers represent 10 per cent of the world’s population is a little bit superfluous considering that billions of people around the world, even people in affluent western countries, don’t have credit cards, Internet access or any money to shop for books or DVDs.

Maybe ACNeilsen should undertake another study to determine what the Internet usage gap is between the rich and poor.

When 100 per cent of the world’s population has the resources to shop online, then I’ll be impressed.

The Apple factor

Just what are they up to at Apple these days?

A better question might be, what aren’t they up to? In the last month we’ve seen the launch of a video iPod, the flash memory-based iPod Nano, new iMac G5s and Mac minis, new Power Mac G5s with dual-core processors, a new line of cheaper flatscreen monitors, and a professional photography program called Aperture. The iTunes music store has launched in Australia, and iTunes has been upgraded to include video.

There’s serious talk of an iPod cell phone down the road, as well as the possibility of a new OS X operating system that will work on PCs. One hack called OSx86 already accomplishes this and has been extremely popular, while computer maker Dell has openly expressed an interest in selling computers preloaded with OS X. With Apple getting its processors made by Intel in the future, a PC version of OS X that challenges Microsoft’s dominance in the market may be closer than we think, whatever Apple might say.

What does it all mean? Is Apple really pushing to become mainstream in both the software and hardware markets after decades on the fringe?

One of the only reasons Apple has survived is the fact that they’ve always had a loyal following. They’ve always been content with five per cent or less of the personal computer market, and have never been considered a serious competitor by any of the big names in the business. IBM even manufactures Apple’s G-Series processors, and will until Intel takes over.

Now that Apple’s following is growing through gadgets like the iPod and the Mac Mini, through better value and bundling, through the system’s reputation for security, and through the growth of other gadgets like digital cameras and digital video cameras (Apple has always been the system of choice for graphics people) one has to wonder if the company is gearing up to tangle with the big boys.

And the winner is – Blu-ray?

Sony’s Blu-Ray high capacity DVDs may have won the battle for next generation supremacy over Toshibal’s HD-DVD without selling a single disk or player in North America or Europe (although the players are already available in Japan).

Last week Forrester Research Group predicted that Blu-ray will win the battle due to growing support from the entertainment industry. Supporters now include Warner Bros., Paramount Home Entertainment, Disney, Lions Gate Home Entertainment, (Sony-owned) Universal Music Group, Twentieth Century Fox, Apple, Electronic Arts and Vivendi Universal Games. It will also be available in the Sony Playstation 3, which will be released in early 2006.

Manufacturers lined up to make and sell Blu-ray recorders, players and PC drives include Mitsubishi, Panasonic, Philips, Pioneer, Samsung, Hitachi, JVC, LG, Sharp, Yamaha, Zenith, BenQ, Dell and Hewlett-Packard (as long as Blu-ray allows users to download contents of Blu-ray disks onto hard drives for home media centre compatibility).

Still, that hasn’t stopped Toshiba and its backers from preparing to launch HD-DVD for the end of this year.

Whatever happens, it’s going to take years to prove Forrester Research right or wrong.

Remember, Sony backed Betamax too.