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Modern power moms flock to smartphones

Busy, multitasking mothers are turning to sophisticated devices to keep organized and stay connected.

Smartphones may have started as productivity tools for top executives, but they're quickly finding their way into the hands and purses of "power moms," a.k.a. the CEO of the household.

As smartphones become easier to use and in many ways more useful, more women, including busy moms, are buying them to leverage all kinds of digital applications to stay organized and to connect with their families, friends, and social networks, such as Facebook or Twitter. They're also using these Internet-enabled devices to get things done like paying the bills, ordering groceries, downloading coupons, and hunting for ideas for the next family vacation.

Liz Strohl uses her iPhone 3G to keep herself and her family organized. Philip Strohl

And like their corporate counterparts, these women are hooked.

Molly Russell, a mother of four from Salisbury, Md., said you'd have to cut off her right arm to take her BlackBerry Curve away from her. The sentiment is shared by President Obama, who said after his historic election in November that the Secret Service would have to pry his BlackBerry from his hands when he took office in January.

Russell, 37, may not lead the free world. But like many working professionals, she has a busy schedule full of appointments and tasks that have to be done each day, such as shuttling kids back and forth to practices and organizing events for her children's school. And with the little free time she has, she also helps run a charitable foundation for her family's business. She views her smartphone and the extra $30 a month she pays for the service not as a luxury, but as a necessity.

"I liken it to broadband," she said. "Now that I have high-speed Internet at home, I'd never pay for dial-up. The same is true of my smartphone. I can't go back to a regular phone. I don't care how much it costs."

Once a device relegated to corporate executives, smartphones like the BlackBerry have begun to creep into the wider consumer market. For the past few years, companies like Research in Motion, the maker of the BlackBerry, and Apple, with its iconic iPhone, have been broadening the market for smartphones by targeting consumers.

Wireless operators, looking to increase data usage on their networks, have also been pushing smartphones with cut-throat subsidies on devices. Just this summer, AT&T and Apple slashed the price of the 8GB iPhone 3G to $99. And other smartphones, like some older BlackBerry devices, can be bought for even less on some carrier networks.

Smartphones are the fastest growing segment of the cell phone market and much of this growth is thanks to sales to consumers. And top on the list of consumers buying smartphones are busy "power moms." Regardless of whether these woman are home with their children, working part time or working full time outside the home, smartphones are a perfect solution for keeping their lives more organized and productive.

"Scheduling children's activities and syncing calendars is just like running a small company," said Roger Entner, an analyst at Nielsen. "The whole stereotype about women not flocking to smart devices has to be revised. They are as likely to use smartphones to manage their days on the run as men are."

In fact, moms are finding smartphones so useful that they are one of the fastest growing demographics to own smartphones. In the first quarter of 2009, about 14 percent of all wireless users who identified themselves as mothers said they owned a smartphone, according to Neilsen. This figure was up from 8.3 percent of moms who owned a smartphone in the first quarter of 2008.

The No. 1 reason many moms say they have a smartphone is to keep track of their family's schedules. For Russell, with four kids aged 3 years old to 10 years old, the calendar is crucial for alerting her to doctor appointments, horseback riding lessons, football practices, and even reminders for when field trip money is due.

Russell said that getting her e-mail on the go is also very important. While serving as a class representative for one of her kid's classes last year, she said she'd receive up to 20 e-mails a day. Since she always had her BlackBerry with her, she could answer those e-mails as she received them, saving her hours of time at night.

"Once I get all four kids to bed, the last thing I want to do is sit at my computer answering e-mails all night," she said.

Russell also said she has increasingly become reliant on her phone's Internet access. Earlier this summer, as a few dark clouds rolled in while she and her husband were on their boat with their four children, she quickly fired up her phone's browser and checked the local TV station's weather report. The station was calling for severe thunderstorms. Russell and her husband quickly turned their boat around and headed back to the marina before the onslaught of other boaters. They had the boat docked and the kids in the car before the storm even hit, she said.

On a lighter note, her smartphone's Web browser also came in handy on a recent vacation in Montana. After a long hike, she and her kids wanted milkshakes. So she did a Google search and discovered the restaurant she would have gone to for milkshakes, didn't actually serve them. So she found the Hungry Moose in Big Sky, Mont., instead.

"I know it sounds kind of silly, but it saved me another 20 or 30 minutes of driving," she said. "Those things aren't really a big deal, but I was still really glad I had my phone with me."

Russell said her sister, also a mom, is equally hooked on her smartphone. Mariah Calagione of Lewes, Del., uses her iPhone to update social-networking sites for her husband's microbrewing business, Dogfish Head.

"It doesn't matter where she is," Russell said. "She can update Twitter or Facebook from anywhere."

Smartphones that provide access to these types of applications along with other applications is what is helping drive demand, even as the economy is still suffering.

Liz Strohl, 34 and a mother of two small children, said she was intrigued by all the applications available on the iPhone. It was access to these applications through the App Store along with the big screen that attracted her to the iPhone over other smartphones. One of her favorite apps she downloaded is one for a grocery shopping list, which she uses to check off items as she shops.

Strohl says other features on the iPhone have also become very useful. As a transplant to Austin, Texas, from California, she uses the GPS-enabled Google maps on the iPhone to navigate around the city.

David Owens, director of customer acquisition for Sprint Nextel, believes that smartphones and moms like Russell and Strohl are a natural fit, simply because these phones help take the Internet beyond the household and into the world.

"As the devices get easier to use, and the Web is more accessible, we really see smartphones being used as a computer outside of the home," he said. "And since many moms are outside the home on a pretty regular basis, it makes sense they'd be leveraging the technology."

Strohl agreed. She said that her choice to subscribe to a smartphone service, which is costing her more than her old cell phone plan, was also about keeping her connected to the world. Having worked as a drug sales representative for several years before having kids, she said the transition to mommyhood was a little difficult at first.

"When I made the initial transition to stay at home, it felt kind of isolating," she said. "For me, losing my laptop and not interacting with adults made me feel disconnected. So it's nice to be able to check CNN or my Gmail to see what's going on. And then I don't feel like I've missed anything while I've been out all afternoon at a playground with the kids."

And now, like Russell, Strohl says she can't imagine life without her smartphone.

"My entire life is on this phone," she said. "So it would be very hard to give it up. But if I had to, I guess I'd get an iPod Touch to go along with my regular phone."