December 27, 2000, 8:37 AM — As cell phones, handheld computers, and set-top boxes like WebTV hook up to the Net, instant messaging is primed to go beyond the PC.
The worldwide market for instant messaging will grow to 175 million users (PC and non-PC combined) by 2002, according to market research firm Mobile Insights. That's up 250% from the 50 million PC users today.
By 2002, desktop PCs will still be the dominant platform for instant messaging, but messaging on personal digital assistants like the PalmPilot and on mobile phones will pick up dramatically, says David Hayden, senior analyst at Mobile Insights. Some 25 million instant messaging users could be on personal digital assistants by then, Hayden says. PDAs are gaining wireless connectivity faster than PC notebooks are, and notebooks will trail in instant messaging use.
What drives instant messaging is the desire or need to be plugged in to something, Hayden says. Most notebook users connect only occasionally, like from a hotel during a business trip.
It's a Wireless World
Analysts are convinced instant messaging services will gravitate to other, non-PC devices.
"Five years from now the interface to most cell phones and wireless PDAs will include a buddy list," said Jerry Michalski, president of Sociate, an industry consulting firm. "These buddy lists will transform the way people communicate and help them to avoid the necessity of making real-time two-way phone calls to handle simple communications."
Although versions of America Online Inc.'s ICQ are available for the PalmPilot and Windows CE-based handheld PCs, they haven't been widely used because integrated wireless communications has been slow to spread, said Hayden at Mobile Insights.
"The Palm VII is the first of many mainstream handheld devices that will incorporate wireless data communications," he added. "Integrated wireless communications will be the catalyst that leads to the pervasive use of mobile information appliances."
But digital communications is ripe for the ease and speed of mobile instant messaging, Hayden says. "Instant messaging provides significant advantages over other communication mediums. You don't have telephone tag -- the back and forth of waiting for someone to return your voice mail message."
What began and grew popular as a consumer chat service is now finding a use in the business world. "People are discovering business applications, such as a bunch of colleagues having an online brainstorming session," Hayden says.
Can't We All Work Together?
AOL, with its AOL Instant Messenger and ICQ, is the clear leader today with about 80% market share, according to Mobile Insights. Historically, each instant messaging client has been an island unto itself. AOL Instant Messenger users can't chat even with users of sibling product ICQ.