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Last Updated: Friday, 2 September 2005, 18:09 GMT 19:09 UK
Why technology misses the masses
Mobile phones
Do you understand all the functions on your mobile phone?
Technology is an area where there is always plenty of scope to come unstuck.

How many times have you stared blankly at a horrifically expensive new gadget which promised the earth, only to find out you cannot actually work out how to use it?

If this sounds familiar, you are not the only one, according to a recent report into the use of technology in France, Germany and the UK.

Technology has a peculiar way of being utterly inscrutable - jam-packed with features we will not use and overcomplicating the features we will.

While this might be something the early adopters can live with, it is no surprise that this culture has got technophobes running even more scared.

The report, commissioned by the European technology PR company Hotwire, was intended to give an understanding of how technology is changing people's lives, explained Brendon Craigie, Hotwire's senior partner.

"We spoke to 6,000 people and found that young males are embracing new technologies much faster than women and the over-45s," he told Click Online.

"The reason for this, we believe, is that manufacturers are focusing too heavily on the features within their products rather than the benefits and the ways they can change people's lives.

"For instance, in terms of the impact, this means there are 30% more men using broadband today as women, and there are twice as many under-45s using broadband today as over-45s."

'Safe bet'

It seems that the manufacturers are missing a very large part of the market.

But Brendon says we have to recognise that these manufacturers are driven by a commercial imperative to sell more products.

"In that situation it's very tempting to go for the safe option, the safe bet. And the safe bet is young males.

Stressed person
Sometimes keeping up with technology can just be too stressful
"Unfortunately the way that they're trying to appeal to young males is by focusing very heavily on the features, the bells and whistles within their products.

"In doing so they're not directly appealing to women or the over-45s."

He cites mobile phones as typical of the problem.

"Walk into any mobile phone store today and pick up a phone. You'll find that any phone has 40-plus features, most of which you'll never use.

"If you look at women and how they use their mobile phone, they predominantly use it for telephone calls and text messages.

"So you can see how this confuses the benefits of what those products deliver."

It is not clear whether manufacturers are ignoring the over-45s because they believe they will not be around for much longer, but Brendon says that such an attitude would be a huge mistake.

"Over-45s have lots of disposable income, they put a premium on their leisure time and these are exactly the kind of things that broadband and 3G are meant to address."

Clear benefits

Convergence, believes Brendon, certainly muddies the waters by cramming so much onto devices. But it does not have to be complicated, he says.

It's a problem for manufacturers: they're the ones that have to make these products easier
Brendon Craigie, Hotwire
"If you look at a product like a DVD player, manufacturers have been very successful at marketing that as a new technology.

"Older people are embracing that technology because it's very simple, very clear about the benefits. It improves your viewing of films.

"In terms of the issue with regard to young people, sure, it's an advantage if you grow up with these new technologies around you.

"But I don't think we should be looking at this as a problem for users.

"It's a problem for manufacturers: They're the ones that have to make these products easier, they're the ones that have to appeal to us and show us how these technologies are going to change our lives."

Click Online is broadcast on BBC News 24: Saturday at 2030, Sunday at 0430 and 1630, and on Monday at 0030. A short version is also shown on BBC Two: Saturday at 0645 and BBC One: Sunday at 0730 . Also BBC World.

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