Why old people still like their PDAs

Summary:This is a generational question. We prove it using data from the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control.

My mom's Tungsten E Palm device recently started to act up, causing a minor panic. She loves her Palm device and was worried what would happen if it died. Normally, we'd just go out and get her a new one, but now that Palm has been sold to HP and completely abandoned the venerable (and much-loved) Palm OS, my mom (and other Palm OS fans) are out of luck if they need a replacement.

Sure, there's always eBay, but as time goes on, even never-opened devices are going to have battery problems. There was just nothing like an actual new Palm OS device, back when it was just fresh off the factory floor.

But the real question is this: why the loyalty?

Why doesn't my mom just go out and by an iPhone, an iPod touch, a Droid, or some other smartphone? Why does she even need a PDA?

Would would anyone even need a PDA?

Sigh.

This is a generational question. I can prove it using data from the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control. Seriously.

I recently read Wireless Substitution: Early Release of Estimates From the National Health Interview Survey, a CDC study by Stephen J. Blumberg, Ph.D., and Julian V. Luke, Division of Health Interview Statistics, National Center for Health Statistics. It's an absolutely fascinating study, and I'll be coming back to it over the coming months. For now, though, the interesting element is this chart:

Basically, the CDC studied the question of how many people are substituting the old-school wired phones with cell phones -- and what the various health-related indications are based on that substitution.

The chart above shows people (by age) who only have a wireless phone (read: cell phone) in their homes. As you can see, there's a big spike among relatively young people, but as you top about 38 years old, more and more people have wired phone lines.

People over 38 are older people. That includes me (I'm almost 50) and my mom.

Older people don't have as much of an affinity for cell phones. My mom has a very simple one, and when I suggested I might replace it with something that could do double-duty as a PDA, she got quite upset. She's never really had a comfortable relationship with cell phones, eying them with the same level of distrust she did the summer I brought a cat home from college (true story).

The thing is, she doesn't really have much of a need for a cell phone. She does most of her talking on her wired line. She uses her Palm device constantly, but she's probably dialed her cell phone once in the past 12 months.

There's another issue: nothing replicates the Palm Desktop's integration with the PC desktop nearly as well as that ancient piece of software. It's simple and lets you easily edit your addresses, notes, calendar, etc. If she were to use, say, an iPhone, she'd somehow have to rely on the abortion that's iTunes for all her data entry.

I love my mom. I wouldn't ever want to do that to her.

"Well, what about Outlook?" some of you might say. My mom doesn't use Outlook, so we'd have to transition her over. An Android phone comes close, because there's moderately good integration into Gmail and Google calendar, but there's still not the easy desktop connectivity she's come to know with the Palm Desktop.

There is no doubt the PDA market has collapsed, eclipsed completely by the demand for the iPhone and similar devices. But there is still a market for simple PDAs, whether it's because us over-40 types don't rely solely on our mobiles or because a PDA still has some use in various business and industrial applications.

Something to think about for those trying to find new markets. Perhaps an old market might still have some legs.

Topics: Mobility, Hardware, Operating Systems, Software, Telcos

About

In addition to hosting the ZDNet Government and ZDNet DIY-IT blogs, CBS Interactive's Distinguished Lecturer David Gewirtz is an author, U.S. policy advisor and computer scientist. He is featured in The History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets, is one of America's foremost cyber-security experts, and is a top expert on savi... Full Bio

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