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Tech Providers Still Cashing In Despite Slow Economy

In Local News on October 4, 2011 at 1:33 pm

By Gery L. Deer

Deer In Headlines

This week Amazon.com announced the release of its new tablet computer, the Kindle Fire. Apple also unveiled the fifth incarnation of its iPhone line. As technology continues to change, most people find they cannot keep up with the dizzying pace.

Realistically, there’s no need to try to stay ahead of it – and it would be impossible without virtually unlimited resources. If you have a device that works for you, continue to use it until it no longer functions or serves its purpose.

The marketing departments of tech companies like Apple and Microsoft have a difficult job. With each new release of a product, they have to make the same gadget you already have seem like the latest and greatest device you simply cannot live without, just by adding a few more bells and whistles. Take cell phones for example.

I recently went to a Verizon store to update my three-year-old cell phone because it’s literally starting to fall apart. I’m not a typical male lemming and lack the gene requiring me to buy the top of the line, biggest, baddest gadget. What I wanted was a phone that had a calendar and alarm clock, could send texts, take photos and occasionally make a call. I don’t care who makes it or what color it is. It just needs to do those specific things.

Of course, the sales people were happy to help me, quite literally pouncing on me as soon as I cleared the door threshold – isn’t commission sales grand? But the only devices available to me that met my criteria, without being made of wood, required an extra fee each month for a “data plan.”

A data plan is a feature added to your cell phone account that allows smart phones and the like to talk to the Internet. Given the number of wireless hot spots available to the general public, these plans are unbelievably underpowered and significantly overpriced. Plus, I don’t need a data plan.

As technologically adept as I may be, I still don’t surf the Internet with my cell phone or try to type out elaborate emails on its tiny keypad. I have a very nice laptop in my office for that purpose. So, unless I wanted a phone that looked and felt quite literally disposable, I was out of luck. And Verizon lost a sale because they are trying to force these extra costs on their customers just so they can sell a fancier phone. No thanks.

Don’t blame Verizon alone, however. Every wireless and Internet provider is doing the same thing and tech hardware manufacturers are almost forcing the practice.

Every change in technology requires an adjustment in how information is delivered to the user. Once upon a time, a cell phone was the size of a small box of breakfast cereal and could barely make a call, much less do anything else. Today you can watch television on your iPhone or draft legal documents on your tablet computer.

Well if you hate all of this, you can blame it on two things – greed and Star Trek. The nerds who dreamed of going where no one had gone before eventually went to MIT and Stanford and discovered that there was money in realizing the technology of science fiction – thus, the greed. After all, they needed eventually to move out of their parents’ basements.

Captain Kirk had the first “cell phone” in his flip-open communicator and did you ever wonder about that black clipboard that Lt. Uhura was always carrying around? It was a type of tablet computer. You could write on it and the data was instantly transferred to digital form. The crew of the later Enterprise under Captain Picard used “pads” that looked a lot like the modern ereader.

How ever these devices came about, industry found a way to capitalize on them and the people responded. What fascinates me is that at a time when unemployment is critically high, jobs are scarce, and our political leaders are chosen by a process of elimination, people are still spending money on these gizmos.

Gery L. Deer is an independent business writer based in Jamestown. Meet him at Books & Co. at The Greene, 7PM, Friday Oct. 7.

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