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FORGET DOLLS, TOY CARS: KID GIFTS GO HIGH-TECH.

Byline: Mark Baker The Register-Guard

What's wrong with a doll? Or a Red Rider BB gun like Ralphie longed for in the popular holiday film "A Christmas Story"?

Oh, yeah - you could put your eye out with the latter. And it ain't high-tech.

Christmas shopping for the kids has, like everything else in America, gone digital. And parents are feeling it in the pocketbook as they shop for MP3 players, digital cameras and camcorders, cell phones, picture phones, video phones, portable DVD players and other fancy gadgets for Susie and Jimmy.

"We're seeing a lot of parents buying them," said David Lacy, general manager at The Mac Store in downtown Eugene. Lacy was referring to the iPod, a fancy MP3 player made by Apple Computer that is one of the more popular high-tech items that some parents are buying for their middle- and high-school-age children this year.

The palm-size iPod lets users download music off the Internet and from compact discs. Its high-end model sells for $499 and can store up to 10,000 songs.

What's a budget-minded parent to do? And what's an MP3 player? Ask the kids.

Actually, it's a technology that allows large audio files to be compressed to one-twelfth their original size.

But the iPod is much more than just an elaborate Walkman that produces stereo-quality sound. You can make it into a remote control for your TV. You can turn it into a voice recorder. You can even play Pong, the video game made popular in the 1970s, on it.

Introduced in 2001, sales for the iPod have more than doubled this year, according to Bloomberg, a financial reporting service. The Mac Store in Eugene has sold more than 90 of the five different iPod models (the low-end model goes for $294) in the past month, Lacy said. And almost 900 have been sold at its six stores in Oregon and Washington.

Other MP3 players sell for less than $200 around town at such stores as Circuit City, Target, The Good Guys and Radio Shack, to name a few.

Annette Antone of Eugene bought her 16-year-old son, Brett, an MP3 player online for his birthday earlier this month for about $100.

On Thursday, she was shopping at the Target store in Springfield's Gateway Mall for a memory card that would add 128 megabytes to her son's player.

Would she buy her son an iPod?

"No," she said. "That's too much."

But other parents are apparently shelling out the big bucks for digital products.

"I had a guy come in today and buy one for his 12-year-old son," said Lon Dennis, a salesman at The Good Guys in Eugene's Delta Oaks Shopping Center, pointing Wednesday to a $469 Canon digital camcorder. The movie cameras sell from $300 to $3,500 at the store.

$469? For a 12-year-old?

"Some of them are thinking, `Maybe he's the next Spielberg.' It amazes me," Dennis said of the money parents will spend on their kids. "It must be nice."

Digital cameras are another popular gift for kids this year. "Digital camera sales are outselling 35 mm cameras for the first time in history," The Mac Store's Lacy said. "Kids like digitals because of the instant gratification. They've got pictures right there on their computer. They can share them with their friends."

And they're learning how to use them at younger and younger ages.

"I've had a lot of parents come in and ask for the cheap digital cameras," said Jesse Weaver, a salesman at Target. Those would be the Concord digital cameras for $29.99 that Weaver said parents are buying for their 6- and 7-year-olds.

Cell phones are another item parents are buying for the young teen in the family, said Anthony McCabe at Delta Oaks' Totally Cellular store. They run from $40 to $180 at the store, and kids love to get them with text messaging. "It's just like sending e-mail back and forth," McCabe said. You use the phone's key pad to enter words that appear on the phone's screen.

Video phones that record what callers see around them have been arriving on market this year, but parents are more likely to buy their children picture phones that snap a photograph that can be sent via e-mail, said Shelly Hasha, manager at Gateway's Radio Shack.

And, of course, the MP3 players are selling fast there, too, Hasha said. In fact, Thursday she had only one left on the shelf.

And the Walkmans?

"What are those?" Hasha joked.

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iPods are one of the more popular high-tech items for teens this year.
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Title Annotation:Holidays
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 20, 2003
Words:765
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