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Baby boomers warm up to PDAs, complex cell phones

Posted: Friday, January 24, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) -- It's not that Candace Talmadge is a technophobe.

Sure, Talmadge refuses to get a cell phone and a personal digital assistant. But it's not the technology that puts her off. It's the work involved. First you have to research these gadgets. Then you have to learn how to use them.

''There's a huge learning curve in these products,'' said Talmadge, 48, a freelance writer who lives in Lancaster, Texas, near Dallas. ''If you grow up with it, it's not that strange.''

Talmadge, like many other members of the baby boom generation -- those born between 1946 and 1964 -- is slow to buy shiny new electronic gadgets if there isn't an overwhelming benefit, or if they require long hours squinting at a how-to manual.

Analysts say the trend is most pronounced these days when it comes to the slick new handsets and PDAs with games, text messaging, cameras and Internet browsing -- as far as boomers are concerned, those are the accessories of younger generations.

''That's a little far-fetched. It's outside their comfort level,'' said Tom Edwards, consumer electronics analyst with the NPD Group, said of boomers. ''They want a cell phone to be a cell phone, not a PDA or a camera.''

Since boomers are into workplace productivity, they're about as likely to own a PDA as anyone, said Jed Kolko, who researches consumer attitudes toward such devices at Forrester Research. But PDAs are still pretty rare overall, with only 10 percent of U.S. adults having them, Kolko said.

''What baby boomers are much less likely to do, is use any wireless data services'' like text messaging, Internet browsing or e-mailing on their cell phones or PDAs, Kolko said.

''That's very skewed toward the young,'' he said. ''Those are social applications. Baby boomers, if they're still working, are more focused on work.''

For some boomers, the pace of technology is just too quick. Before they get used to one gadget, it's eclipsed by another.

Elaine Haney, 39, of Ashland, Mass., is not one of them. Haney, an executive at the online directory service Switchboard.com, has already purchased a gadget that has attracted few others -- the PDA phone.

She bought a Handspring Treo, the lauded cross between a Palm-based organizer and a cell phone. But she's disappointed with the Treo and PDA phones in general.

''They're still not as good as I want them,'' Haney said, chatting from her car on a separate cell phone, because the T-Mobile service on the Handspring doesn't yet serve her commuting area.

Haney, an early adopter of technology, bought and discarded a few earlier Palms before buying the Treo. She wanted the Treo for what it's supposed to be able to do: organize her daily calendar, make phone calls, send instant messages and e-mail and browse the Web. By doing all this, she figured the Treo would save room in her purse.

Not yet.

''It's still not completely functional,'' she said. ''I spent hours trying to configure this thing. I have a computer science degree. I can't imagine a layman trying to do this.''

Margery Rothenburg, 48, a self-employed marketing consultant from Suffern, N.Y., says her philosophy on such matters is to wait and see what works for others before you buy. She bought a Palm organizer after figuring they weren't going away.

''Hard? No, they're very intuitive,'' Rothenburg said. ''I read the instructions, and had someone show me. It's pretty easy to pick up.''

But Talmadge apparently plans to stay low-tech. A cell phone might be nice, she said, if it weren't so much work to research a calling plan and a phone and find service that works best in her neighborhood.

As for a PDA, ''you have to learn how to use all the various functions. And you have to input all the names and addresses. That takes a lot of time,'' she said. ''A Rolodex is fine for me. Or a sticky note.''



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