The Pocket Protector

By Heidi S. Douglas, hdouglas@engineer.uconn.edu

“Over the meadows and through the palmettos to grandmother’s condo we go!  The GPS points the track to carry us back through the white and drifting snow.”  A holiday road trip to grandma’s condo in Miami isn’t what it used to be.

How is it that we could possibly have made our way from Connecticut to Florida forty years ago with just a Rand McNally, ashtray full of change for tolls and phone calls, wad of cash and some traveler’s checks?  If you were an AAA member you might have had a TripTik® to help you find accommodations and a point-to-point route map.  For entertainment you played the license plate game, read a book, stared out the window and asked profound questions of your fellow hostages like, “Are we there yet?”

Oh, baby, how things have changed.  Of course, if you want to go old school, all of the aforementioned options are still available to you, but typical accoutrements today for cruising down I-95 with a flock of Snowbirds, including two Boomers and a dog were unimaginable forty years ago.  A totally hypothetical car travelling south this season might be equipped with, say, two Blackberry smartphones, a GPS named Wanda, two electronic toll transponders, two personal computers, an iPad 2, Kindle II, iPod, Sirius satellite radio and factory-installed Bluetooth.  Now that’s what I call NeverLost and NeverBored, thanks to the genius of some guys way too cool for pocket protectors, wacky smart people like Steve Jobs, Michael S. Hart, Judah Klausner and Roger L. Easton.  Together with their techno-armies of engineers, designers and scientists they created a deluge of personal mobile devices that we seemingly can’t, or don’t wish to, live without.

This holiday season, the number of new adopters of these technologies is skyrocketing.  Open any Black Friday, Cyber Monday or holiday sales email flier and you’re assailed by a barrage of eReaders, tablets, game consoles and other electronic devices.  The Consumer Electronics Association reported that electronics were among the most purchased items over the recent Thanksgiving weekend, with nearly half of all shoppers buying technology; only clothes purchases were more popular (but probably not among the same people 🙂 ).

As an example, consider iPad sales.  Sleuths from Piper Jaffray, a leading middle-market investment bank and asset management firm, secretly occupied Apple Stores on Black Friday and observed an average purchase rate of fifteen iPads per hour, representing a 68% increase on a year over year basis.  At that rate, they estimate that 13.5 million iPads will be sold in the final quarter of 2011, an 84% growth over last year; bringing the total sold to date to around 47 million.  Not too shabby for a device that for most people is a guilty pleasure and whose biggest users, according to The Nielsen Company, are males (65%) under the age of 35 (63%).

So, to draw an esoteric parallel, buying an iPad today is like buying a DEC Rainbow 100 microcomputer in 1982:  it’s pretty expensive and you really don’t know what productive use it’ll serve.  If you’re not the target demographic (i.e., younger guy) and can’t rationalize purchasing an iPad for yourself, this is the perfect time to buy one as a gift for someone with whom you share a home.  Because you really aren’t sure what you’re going to do with it, buying it as a present automatically justifies the purchase AND gives you access to the device.  Genius!

Go one step further.  Make certain that you choose the free laser iPad engraving and signature gift box, along with a personalized greeting card and red ribbon.  That way, the intended owner is never in question.  So what if you monopolize it on the drive to grandma’s, it’s positioned within easy reach for pre-dawn Google News searches, and the docking station is on your desk?  You can always point earnestly to the laser-engraved sentiment on the back as evidence that is does, in point of fact, belong to them.  Go ahead; give the gift of personal electronics this holiday season.  You just might want to rethink the pink cover.

Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas, Joyous Kwanzaa … to me!

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