REDMOND, Wash., Dec. 11, 2000 — It wasn’t your average fashion show. Sure, it was held in Paris — models stalked up and down the runway and flashbulbs popped. But the dazzled crowd wasn’t there to see the latest creations of crepe, silk and leather. Fashion watchers and the press at this fashion show were here to view wearable mobile computing devices.
As part of the Fall Internet 2000 conference, held Nov. 28 and 29 in Paris, models in the Brave New Unwired World fashion show strode the catwalk to display a wide array of functional, wearable technology built on Microsoft software platforms.
the sleek prototype of the Microsoft smart phone platform. Color-splashed Pocket PCs. A handsome phone-enabled Pocket PC from SAGEM that doubles as a mobile phone and a personal digital assistant (PDA). That these products were featured at a Parisian fashion show indicates the degree to which technology is influencing fashion and popular taste and vice versa.
Fashion models strode the catwalk to show off the functional, wearable technology built on Microsoft’s Pocket PC platform.
With the holiday gift-giving season approaching, manufacturers and retailers of electronic devices are mounting highly visible marketing campaigns to promote a wide variety of new consumer products. While many of these products are crossovers from the world of mobile business computing and communications, there are an increasing number of applications available that make these products fun and useful to the everyday consumer. As the Paris fashion runway illustrates, merchandisers are turning to very different promotional tools to reach consumers than they used to address the more buttoned-down business world.
“Mobile devices aren’t just for business workers, and high-tech gadgetry doesn’t have be dull or gray,”
says Rebecca Thompson, product manager for mobile devices at Microsoft.
“This holiday season, retailers are catching on quick that there’s a strong consumer demand for powerful PDAs like the Pocket PC that work hard, make fun easy — and also make the consumer look sharp.”
The Year of the Electronic Stocking Stuffer
This holiday season is shaping up to be the most important yet for manufacturers of mobile computing devices and other portable electronic tools and accessories, Thompson says. There are more high-tech electronic devices and gadgets available this season than ever before, including eBook readers, digital music recorders, a wide variety of cell phones PDAs in a multitude of colors and digital cameras. Pocket PCs from manufacturers like Casio, Hewlett Packard and Compaq are available at many consumer electronics retailers and also via the Internet.
Electronics retailers are expecting sales of these devices to be high.
“There’s a great deal of public interest in the season’s new digital devices,” says Jim Babb, spokesman for Circuit City, a national electronics chain with over 600 stores throughout the United States. “The audience for Pocket PCs and other handheld devices is really broad. It includes everyone from the hectic businessperson who needs to keep connected, to homemakers whose kids are in soccer, to a spouse who doesn’t want her anniversary forgotten, to young people who use it to download MP3 files.”
Add in the fashion factor — that possessing these mobile computing devices confers a kind of status and forward-thinking stylishness — and you have a recipe for retail excitement.
“PDAs are becoming a fashion statement,”
“You remember ten years ago when people loved to carry around their paper personal organizers? Well, these handheld devices are digital version of that phenomenon. Whipping out your Pocket PC is a kind of status symbol.”
Long-Established Marketing Techniques Help Sell High-Tech Accessories
The season’s new handheld devices are decidedly high-tech, but to reach consumers, manufacturers and retailers are using old-fashioned, low-tech methods to promote their products. When it comes to reaching customers, there’s nothing like a hands-on demonstration — and to really get consumers’ attention, a buy-one-get-something-free promotion.
In the United States, manufacturers and retailers are going to extra lengths to educate the public and to train retail sales staff about the features of these new electronic devices. Microsoft is sending representatives to 1,800 stores across the United States to give demonstrations of Pocket PCs. Consumers who buy a Casio device for Christmas can also receive a free 28-megabyte multimedia card. And of course, expect to see plenty of Pocket PCs in newspaper circulars and even on TV in some areas.
“At Circuit City, we use the Internet to train our sales counselors and to keep them up to date with all the new technology,”
“While we always have a trained sales person nearby, at Circuit City we like to encourage people to have a hands-on experience with the product. All of our handheld computers are available for customers to use. They’re ‘live,’ so to speak. A lot of our customers are quite advanced and they just want to get into the store and try them out on their own.”
In Europe, the Paris fashion catwalk isn’t the only venue being used to highlight the electronic device market this holiday season. Microsoft is sponsoring a series of Pocket PC demonstrations in major train stations and European airports, as well as inselect Dixon stores in the United Kingdom, at FNAC stores in France and at various outlets in Holland and Denmark. If a consumer purchases a Hewlett Packard Jornada 545 Pocket PC at a Dixon’s store, he or she will receive a modem, courtesy of Microsoft and Hewlett Packard.
A Device with a Can-Do Attitude
With stores full of digital cameras, eBook- readers, PDAs, digital music recorders and other electronic accessories, making the right gift choice might seem difficult. Microsoft’s Thompson has some advice:
“Of all the gadgets available this holiday season, the Pocket PC allows the giver to give more,”
“By giving a Pocket PC for the holidays, a person doesn’t have to choose between a PDA, a digital music player or an eBook device. With a Pocket PC, you get them all, plus a powerful productivity tool that will let you connect to email and the Web.”
This holiday season sees the first releases of consumer-oriented handheld computers based on Microsoft’s Pocket PC platform: The HP Jornada 548, the Compaq iPAQ, and two products from Casio, the Cassiopeia E-125 and the Cassiopeia EM-500.
“New color cases and styles for Pocket PCs make them real head turners,”
“Casio’s new device comes in five colors and HP is now offering interchangeable shiny cases in eight colors for the Jornada.”
While devices from Microsoft’s hardware partners are all unique, they also share a number of features. All Pocket PCs have vibrant color screens. All have powerful 32-bit processors to make the devices fast and capable — perfect for gaming and digital music. All have rechargeable batteries and come with a speaker, stereo earphone jack, and an infrared port.
This advanced hardware is coupled with familiar, pre-loaded Microsoft applications. Included in every Pocket PC are pocket versions of Outlook for email and PIM, Internet Explorer for Web browsing and Word for word processing. All Pocket PCs also come with Windows Media Player for downloading and managing Windows Media Audio and MP3 music. The new Windows Media Player 7 for Pocket PC will be available for download this Christmas and will allow users to play downloaded videos and home movies edited with Windows Movie Maker — all on a Pocket PC.
If the consumer’s Inner Santa is convinced that a Pocket PC seems like the perfect holiday gift, they should buy soon. Circuit City’s Babb says that the company doesn’t anticipate inventory shortages of hand held devices, but:
“It happens to any new product when the reception is greater than the manufacturer anticipated. We had shortages of handheld computers earlier in the year. It happens from time to time.”
Microsoft’s Thompson concurs.
“Unless you want to buy your Pocket PC on eBay, you may want to buy one sooner than later. Some models are already in short supply. The smart shopper should buy early in order to avoid disappointment,”