Sony eyes teen market with latest electronics line

The normally staid world of consumer electronics isn't immune to the overwhelming buying power of so-called Generation Y, as Sony's latest electronics line shows.

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MEADOWLANDS, N.J.--At a Sony products show here, the consumer electronics giant revealed who has the power these days: teenagers.

It seems the normally staid world of consumer electronics isn't immune to the overwhelming buying power of so-called Generation Y, as its latest electronics line shows. As demonstrated at this event, Sony has incorporated more color and curves into its devices and gadgets than ever before.

Teen culture is a powerful force in entertainment, as represented in movies and popular music. Thus it's not surprising to see the trends spilling over into the world of technology, where design has become an important facet of computers and other technology devices. Apple Computer's colorful iMac and Barbie-themed personal computers are just some examples of recent attempts to spice up the familiar PC "beige box."

"This generation is the instigator of change in households," said Richard Doherty of The Envisioneering Group, displaying his empty wallet as proof. Doherty described Sony's new products as more eye-catching and less expensive than any year he could recall, a testament to the company's target market. "But good design never goes away," he said.

He pointed to other firms that are paying homage to the teenage demographic, such as cell phone maker Nokia, whose colorful phone covers are tremendously popular with young buyers.

Sony is also eyeing the buying power of teens, as recent surveys show it is a force to be reckoned with. The latest generation spent about $2 billion at online stores last year, according to Forrester Research. Since most teens, having grown up with PCs and cell phones, are technology savvy, those numbers can only be expected to grow.

In addition to the typical lineup of clock radios, big screen televisions, cordless phones and speakers, Sony also showcased a wide range of music players, televisions and computers notable for their colorful designs.

Yet analysts aren't sure whether companies are driving the trend by designing more eye-catching and less expensive products or whether they are merely reacting to teen buying patterns.

Nevertheless, Sony is definitely jumping on the teen bandwagon, Doherty said. The company has expanded its line of digital music players, including one the size of a cigarette lighter. In addition, the company showed its Music Clip, a pen-shaped MP3 player, along with other digital music devices, including the Network Walkman, which offers speedier music downloads than other Sony products.

All of Sony's digital music players, as well as many of its digital cameras and PCs, are designed to work with the company's Memory Stick technology. The Memory Stick, about the size of a piece of gum, is intended as portable storage that will drive purchases of other Sony products.

Sony also unveiled a new product that allows consumers to download MP3 digital music files and store them on MiniDisc. The new MiniDisc Internet Audio Recording Interface is specifically targeted at younger buyers, Sony executives said.

CNET TV: The teen market
CNET TV: The teen market

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"Generation Y takes their music very seriously, wherever they go," said Fujio Nishida, president of the consumer products marketing group for Sony, adding that the consumer electronics giant would soon begin a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign designed to educate young consumers about digital music and copyright management.

Even typical products from the company were tinged with color and translucent designs reminiscent of the iMac, including stereos and clock radios.

"Teenagers are so plugged in, and they want what's new and what's hot--and the technology is looking so sleek and cool," said Patty Hoffman, an editor with teen magazine Seventeen. The publication plans to expand its technology coverage to add an entire section devoted to popular consumer devices.

Seventeen will likely be featuring Sony products shown at the event, including a portable DVD player built into a pair of sunglasses, a pair of portable speakers compact enough to fit into two CD cases, and portable digital music players.

"It just shows it's like fashion now, with beepers and cell phones with detachable covers that you attach depending (on) your outfit. It's like a handbag," Hoffman added.

But as with any trend, Sony is running the risk that its products may one day fall out of style. After the raft of translucent appliances and products which followed the release of the iMac, Doherty said he wouldn't be surprised at a return to more boring looks in the next few years.

"The iMac has changed products forever," he said. "But I wouldn't be surprised to see things shifting to solids and blacks in 18 months."