Despite the huge growth in new applications such as internet video and social networking, most consumers indicate the main reason for accessing the internet is to use e-mail and gather information.
A survery by Gartner of 4 770 consumer Internet users in the fourth quarter of 2007 – which encompassed 18 countries, three regions, three educational levels and three income levels – found that the third internet interest worldwide was online banking, with emerging markets being the only major exception.
Sharing photos, videos and files came in fourth, with all respondents worldwide ranking geographic navigation services – for example Google Earth – and shopping online as fifth and sixth in importance, respectively.
However, Gartner found that there is one demographic group that is bucking the trend, with 13- to 18-year-olds enjoying the most divergent internet interests, ranging from downloading music and playing games online to blogging and social networks.
"Rather than being considered as contrarians, this group should be regarded as the precursors of what is to come," says Elroy Jopling, research director at Gartner. "The internet has become a utility for most consumers, who use it for communicating, gathering information and performing financial transactions.
"However, a new 'trickle down' phenomenon, where teenagers lead the evolution of consumer internet applications, heralds a new era where internet applications will mimic life – communicating, entertaining, socialising, informing, transactional, either in a fixed location or on the move."
Jopling says that the next Internet frontier will be mobile devices and that to succeed here, technology and service providers will need to incorporate the utilitarian applications of e-mail, search and geographical navigation services on all their fixed-line applications, as well as nimbly porting them to their mobile services.
"Successful business plans will be those that are able to maximise utility on each of the mediums. The applications that teenagers spawn will require a similar fixed and mobile component," he says.
However, Gartner predicts that few technology and service providers will be able to address every element of internet applications and the need to partner with other providers will increase. Equally, the need to viably assess what market a provider can address with its brand and the agility of its infrastructure will become paramount.