PDAs for CEOs of the household

Mary Lorigan claps as her Motorola Q PDA device rests in her lap Wednesday in Seminole. She and her 11-year-old son, Dylan, were watching her 6-year-old son, Sean, play baseball. She often sends e-mails during the game, but her battery was dying.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Mary Lorigan claps as her Motorola Q PDA device rests in her lap Wednesday in Seminole. She and her 11-year-old son, Dylan, were watching her 6-year-old son, Sean, play baseball. She often sends e-mails during the game, but her battery was dying.

Mary Lorigan recruits and does negotiation training for sales employees and consultants in high-tech companies. She also manages her home, ferries sons Dylan and Sean to their soccer and baseball practices, while coming up with daily meal ideas.

The 47-year-old's secret genie is her PDA, or personal digital assistant. The handheld device helps her keep track of her busy schedule at home, while ensuring she meets her professional commitments.

With an increasing number of women swinging between the workplace and home, PDAs and Smartphones have become must-have gadgets to keep their multiple worlds from colliding. Once a privilege for the business elite, these gadgets are slowly making their way into moms' purses.

And cell phone companies are capitalizing on the trend — if not spurring it.

They are offering lucrative deals, wooing the new demographic with targeted ads and packing multiple applications into the gizmos.

Sprint recently launched a campaign featuring the Palm Centro that was targeted to the prototypical soccer mom or, as Sprint likes to call her, "the CEO of the Household."

"It used to be a business device, but now it's become more of a consumer device," said Chuck Hamby, Verizon spokesman.

The numbers support Hamby's assertion.

U.S. factory-level Smartphone sales are expected to rise 31.7 percent in 2008 to 27.3-million units, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. This, while sales of other types of wireless phones are predicted to drop 1 percent to 116-million. The CEA says the increasing awareness of nonvoice cell phone features and services in part explains the rising ownership rates of Smartphones. "More consumers want to be able to do on their wireless device what they can do on their computers," said Kelly Staling, a spokeswoman for AT&T.

"In fact, some of our biggest sellers — the BlackJack II and the BlackBerry Pearl, Curve and 8820 — are Smartphones, which make up a significant portion of our device mix in our stores."

What helped fuel the phenomenon is the leveling of prices, said Jim Barry, spokesman for the Consumer Electronics Association. The average unit price for a Smartphone is projected to go down to about $300 this year, a 25 percent drop over the past five years.

"As the prices drop, service providers are adding more applications to these devices and marketing them to more homes than businesses," Barry said.

The affordability comes at a time when consumers are chanting the convergence mantra, said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with Jupiter Research.

"Consumers need the same functionalities as businesses," he said.

Sometimes, they are not hesitant about spending a bit more on a hip device, he said. Parents these days are springing along to be on the same plane with their tech-savvy teens. They are becoming more comfortable texting or sending pictures through their phones.

The number of people who accessed the Internet using cell phone networks more than doubled in 2007, according to researcher ComScore Inc.

Among other features, Bluetooth and music-enabled phones saw strong increases in 2007, according to the NPD Group, which analyzes mobile device sales based on more than 150,000 online consumer research surveys each month.

The entertainment aspect is nice. But moms like Lorigan mostly turn to these gadgets to keep their lives in order.

Lorigan said she uses her PDA to track her sons' game schedules, look up recipes for dinner or communicate with her clients while watching her sons play.

"If I lose my phone or I don't have it on me, I am in trouble," she said. "It's always rescuing me."

Madhusmita Bora can be reached at mbora@sptimes.com or (813) 225-3112.

Can you tell a PDA from a Smartphone?

PDAs — or personal digital assistants — are handheld computers for managing contacts, appointments and tasks. They typically include a name and address database, calendar, to-do list and note taker. Wireless PDAs may also offer e-mail, Web browsing and cellular phone service. To share data between a PDA and desktop computer, users can use a cable connection or go wireless. Apple's Newton is an example of a PDA.

Smartphones are cellular phones with access to a wide range of information. In addition to digital voice services, they can offer such services as e-mail, text messaging, pager, Web access, voice recognition, still and/or video camera, MP3, TV or video player and an organizer. The BlackBerry and Apple's iPhone are examples of Smartphones.

Source: thefreedictionary.com

By the numbers

187-million American adults, and about 81 percent of the population, own a cell phone.
The Consumer Electronics Association expects unit shipments of Smartphones to account for
15 percent of handset volume this year — a threefold increase in unit share in three years.

PDAs for CEOs of the household 04/20/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 21, 2008 3:35pm]

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