Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Technology Divide Exists Among Consumers

So you just have to own that new highly-gadetized cell phone with built-in flash camera with video option? Are you looking at getting that huge hang-on-the-wall flat panel plasma HDTV home theater system – for the family, of course?

Well, you’re not alone.

According to the latest Forrester Research study, which annually polls nearly 69,000 people in the U.S. and Canada, more and more households are being filled up with the latest techno-gadgets. And that trend should continue through at least 2010.

Consider the DVD. It wsn’t that long ago that the DVD player supplanted the VCR. Was it really only five years ago that one could walk into a video rental store and find only a few DVD titles relegated to a small display on the side wall?

Today, of course, DVD titles make up more than 90 percent of the shelf space. Some rental stores don’t even bother with VHS titles any longer.

By 2010, it is estimated that more than 90 percent of U.S. households will own a DVD player. More than a third of households will own a DVD recorder. The VCR will likely hang around awhile, so families can watch the home videos taken on those old VHS camcorders, even though many of them will get transferred to a DVD.

In 2002, the PC was the most popular high-tech device owned by families. In 2010, although it will continue toward saturation, it will be overtaken by several other electronic gadgets. The DVD player, the cell phone, and the digital camera will either tie or surpass the personal computer in household saturation.

Of these, the digital camera will see the most remarkable growth. In 2002, only 21 million households had a digital camera. By 2010, an estimated 82 million households will have at least one. Say goodbye to film, and to traditional video tape.

Consumers are already replacing their older analog camcorders with the newer digital video recorders. And now, Hollywood is starting to follow the consumer trend.

It was announced last week that the film industry has agreed on a format for converting to digital. George Lucas of Star Wars fame has long been a proponent of digital movies. His last two Star Wars movies were shot using digital video and then transferred to film for distribution to theaters.

But with the new standards in place, and with the improvement in digital movie cameras, Hollywood filmmakers will no longer be tied to traditional film.

Digital video has a lot of advantages over film. Directors can see what they have shot instantly, without waiting for the film to be developed. Post production is easier and cheaper. And instead of having to cart large reels of film to theaters by truck, studios can transmit their latest releases via satellite.

On the downside, theaters will need to convert to digital projectors. Each one costs about $100 thousand. But with all the savings created by producing a movie digitally, the studios are likely to kick in on the cost of the projectors.

There are still gaps between different types of consumers in the adoption of high-tech gadgets, though. About one-fourth of consumers are tech-savvy and can afford any newly-released technological device. They are the first to buy new high-tech products, even at the higher introductory prices.

Another quarter are tech savvy, but lower-income. They will buy the gadgets, but only after the price comes down.

Then there is the low-tech crowd. The wealthier ones will buy new technological devices only if convinced of the need, such as by increasing their productivity.

Finally, the tech-squeamish, low-income segment won’t buy any new gadgets until they are thoroughly convinced of the need to and only then if the price is right.

I aspire to be in the first category, but unfortunately, price is a consideration for me. Luckily, though, by the time the price of a new gadget comes down to within reason, the bugs have been worked out of it. So I guess it’s worth the wait.

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