By Beatrice E. Garcia
July 13, 2004
Cruise through the mall, the local burger joint, even the beach -- anyplace teens gather -- and you can't miss the cellphones.
Teens are so attached to their phones that they're spending more money on them than on CDs or even clothing.
They're demanding wireless chats, games like SpongeBob Darts or Tetris, ring tones by 50 Cent, Britney Spears, Jay-Z and Usher, and personalizing with photos of Enrique Iglesias and other celebrities -- and wireless companies are only too happy to provide them.
YouthMobile, a telecommunications research firm in London, estimates that teens and adults ages 12 to 24 will spend about $22.2 billion on their cellphones this year.
'For this generation, getting a cellphone is a rite of passage,' said Wyndham Lewis, an analyst at youthMobile. ``It's the most expensive electronics device they own. Unlike a home computer, this is a gadget they can control.'
Allie Schwartz, 20, who lives in Aventura and has had a cellphone since she was 16, says her father made her get a part-time job when she got her phone. Dad still pays her monthly cellphone bill, but the job was meant to instill responsibility.
Schwartz, who has personalized her phone with ring tones and color covers and got her dad and her older brother hooked on text messaging, says, ``No one ever calls me on the house phone.'
Cellphones' appeal to youth runs broad and deep.
'Teens are all about communicating, especially girls,' said Rob Callender at Teenage Research Unlimited, a Northbrook, Ill., marketing research firm. ``But teens also don't like to be tied down, especially once they can drive. With cellphones, they can be out, meeting friends and still check in with their parents.'
Experts say it's almost natural for 12- to 24-year-olds to send e-mails with photos or video clips from their phones, play games and download ring tones and screen savers, because they've grown up using similar technology on their computers.
Wireless companies haven't hesitated to exploit the opportunity:
However, parents primarily do the shopping and the buying for wireless service plans for teens. Miami-based TracFone, which offers only prepaid wireless, knows this and markets to parents.
Yet a survey by the Yankee Group, a Boston research firm, found that when teens do provide input, cost is the top factor in picking a carrier and service plan.
'Teens are bargain hunters,' said Linda Barrabee, the Yankee Group senior analyst who conducted the survey.
Barrabee's work also found that teens' and young adults' use of cellphones reflects their lifestyles. This group uses their cellphones at home, work and other locations such as school, while most adults used their wireless phones primarily in their cars.
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