Kay may have the best tech stocking stuffers, but her iPod is her Dead-Finger tech

Meet Kay. She's a twenty-sumthin' hipster who works for an ad agency and who appears to have both a personal and professional passion for technology.

Meet Kay. She's a twenty-sumthin' hipster who works for an ad agency and who appears to have both a personal and professional passion for technology. She clearly loves the Internet for the way it satisfies what she says is a "human being's basic need to feel connected." When she says "connected," she doesn't necessarily see the Internet as a means of staying connected with friends (although she clearly does that). She talks more about the community aspect and the emotion of being connected to things that are bigger than her such as the communities of people on MySpace and iTunes.com who share her tastes in music and who can lead her to independent artists that she'll like (just as easily as she can lead others to music that she has found). Kay loves the New York City-esque brutal honesty that's often the currency of such communities (where recommendations are found and made).

But, despite how the Net's community aspect satisfies her desire to feel connected, Kay also prefers to move somewhat anonymously through cyberspace. Even though I shared my personal story with her of how I met my wife on the Internet in 1995 (perhaps proving that not all online guys are creepy), she's extremely cautious about who she's communicating with when online. Having already once been electronically stalked as a result of her usage of MySpace, she keeps her online profile in a private mode that others can't see. So, even though she was kind enough to share her last name and place of employment with me, I'll be excluding that data from this blog post (as I will others where the privacy of my Dead Finger Tech interviewees trumps the goal of the blog post). If any of you vendors out there want to pick her brains (or those of any other Dead-Finger Tech subjects) for market research, let me know and I'll make the introductions.

In her professional life, one of the accounts she works on is a big brand that's well-known nationally as well as in technology circles (hardly ever covered in my blog though) -- one that faces the same challenges that many other technology players do: First, understanding exactly what it is that tech buyers want (eg: a converged device vs. a bunch of separate ones), then providing solutions that satisfy those needs, and finally, communicating to the market that it's a reliable source to turn to when the time comes to purchase those solutions. So, Kay was as eager to pick my brain as I was hers (and I wished I had my podcast recorder to capture the entire conversation).

So, why did I pick Kay out of the thousands of other people I probably passed during my travels to and from New York City over the past couple of days? While waiting in Boston's South Station, I couldn't help but notice how she was tapping away on a purple device that, from where I was sitting, at best, resembled a Motorola Pebl (one of Moto's new, stylish sorta-egg-shaped phones). It was cradled in her hand. So from a distance, it was hard to identify (not that I would have been able to identify it if she held it out in the open).

I figured she must have been doing what a lot of twenty-sumthins do when they have time to kill -- text messaging. But then, while tapping away on the purple thing, she took out her phone and made a call. With the phone in one hand, she continued to tap away on the purple thing.  So what was it? Some sort of dedicated messaging device that I've never seen before? Another phone? Her Dead-Finger Technology (DFT)? With my business card in one hand and my notebook PC with a ZDNet Web page on display in the other (like, these are credentials that reduce the creep-factor), I approached Kay, identified myself, and asked what was going on.

The purple thing, as it turns out, was not a messaging device. But, rather, it was Radica's $14.95 20Q (pictured right). As in the game 20 questions we used to play as kids.  Think of anything (as long as it's not something abstract like a brand) that's an animal, vegetable, mineral, or "other" and 20Q will usually guess what it is in 20 questions. Kay thought she had it fooled when she was thinking of "parsnip" (a carrot-like vegetable). The 20Q got it right. If the 20Q gets it wrong, it awards itself another five questions to ask and is almost certain to get it after that. Although she appears fully addicted to the the little purple ball, Kay said it is most definitely not her DFT.

The conversation shifted to cell phones and Kay is ready for a new one. She's had hers for about two years and, from the looks of it, Kay either physically tortures her technology or her brothers use it as a hockey puck. Given the phone's nicks and dings, it's a miracle the phone has lasted this long. This is when Kay started to echo what I've been saying about Microsoft's Zune -- that technology (solving some problems and solving them well) is the price of admission to the market. After that, it's about style and fashion. Kay has been contemplating LG's Chocolate but ultimately, is going to reject it. Said Kay:

My friend had one (an LG Chocolate) and she let me play with it. The Chocolate is pretty cool. But that whole wheel thing, you have to practice with it and you shouldn't have to practice with your technology. My friend was so disappointed with it, she took it back. She said that to learn how to use a cell phone shouldn't be a job because she already has a job. I found that if you're in a rush, your thumb ends up in overdrive trying to get the Chocolate to do what you want.

So, what, in Kay's mind is the price of admission? 

It's needs to be small and compact, but have the services that I want. Text, phone, taking pictures, the ability to record voice as well as video. [Still images] are good, but there's really funny stuff that happens in life that a picture doesn't quite capture. The buttons and screen should be easy to work with but they also need to be concealed (for protection) in some way when I'm not using the phone because of how I toss my phones around and put them in my bag with other stuff.  

Kay is not too crazy about the clam-shell design which is why she was checking out the Chocolate with its slide out keyboard (pictured below left). But ultimately, the Chocolate fails on the "price of admission." It doesn't do a good job solving the problem Kay wants solved.

Once Kay's price of admission gets paid though, fashion takes over. Motorola's Razr for example, is a phone that probably addresses her needs.  But according to her, too many people have one which is why she's looking at Motorola's Krazr as an alternate.

A1A, a lot of people have it. It's not big news any more. When everyone got, it was a downfall. You pump your phone up so much. You want somthing that's different. You want people to say "you have a cool phone." What a phone can do is important. But if it looks good, that's a bonus. Between all the news and the advertising, the Razr has reached a saturation point. So, why do I need one if everyone has one? So, I don't want one. 

B2B (this alphanumeric classification system was foreign to me, but it cleary works for Kay), More phones need to adapt to how people live. What works for someone in sales isn't going to work for my Mom and my Mom still has difficulty using her phone. Maybe you need something that just fundamentally can make or receive calls and that's it, but it should do those things exceptionally well. 

But back to the fashion question, I reflected to Kay what I though I heard, especially given the Razr saturation point. I said "So, cell phones are kind of like mini-vans. If you're a soccer Mom, you want all the functionality of a mini-van. That's the price of admission. But, you don't want a mini-van and the 'soccer-mom' stigma that goes along with it. You want to be a soccer mom, but you don't want anyone to really know it by the car you drive. It shouldn't look like all the other v

ehicles parked at the soccer field."

According to Kay, what she was looking for in a cell phone could not have been more perfectly articulated.

Finally, we found our way to her DFT. At first, she couldn't think of one. But then, when I asked "What, no iPod or anything like that?", she became more excited than Sean was over his BlackBerry Pearl. Out came a Black 30GB iPod with a protective cover on it that she said is a must have for any iPod owner (another great stocking stuffer idea):  iSkin's $20 Evo. I must admit that it looked like the ideal protection for the iPod. Users still have access to the iPod's controls, but my guess is that an iPod could survive a pretty good fall. In fact, being able to buy such protective coverings was a criteria that Kay mentioned as being important to her when buying her next cell phone (given the physical abuse she subjects them to). I pointed out to her that it sometimes takes the popularity she eschews before such third party products start showing up on the marketplace. For example, there's a thriving market of third-party goodies for the Razr. But not nearly as many for the Chocolate or other less popular devices.

The Evo however was not her DFT. It was the iPod itself. It is literally her lifeline to the music she loves (ie: Kings of Convenience, Be Good Tanyas, Alexi Murdoch, Regina Spector, Tristin Prettyman, and Spoon). So far, Kay has purchased around 400 or 500 songs from iTunes and when I asked her how she felt about how all that music will only work on the iPod, she intervened before I could finish asking:

Sometimes I will buy a song, listen to it, and buy the CD to play it elsewhere. I hate with a passion that I can't do this sort of sharing with the music that's stuck in my iPod. It should be just like with a CD. So, if I could, in my humble, very honest opinion, I will happily tell iPod man... Steve whatever his name is how much I hate that.

Kay's other major complaint is how iTunes will show you all of the music that you've purchased but will not reissue it if, for some reason, you've lost your music. In her case, before she purchased her iPod 18 months ago, she was running iTunes on her computer at work and it crashed and she lost all of her music. To her, it was incredibly frustrating to be able to see the list of songs she purchased, but not recover them.