Vol. 3, Issue 6, March 1, 2005
Think Difference (Engine).
The Bentinel

Electronic Monitoring Bracelets Top-selling Gadgets of 2004

Apple's legendary iPod has dominated headlines as the gadget to get for much of the past twelve months, but it turns out that the trendy music player was not the most popular electronic device in 2004, according to a recent report. The top spot for the year actually went to electronic monitoring bracelets.

"Americans like their music, but they like to keep tabs on each other even more," said technology analyst Harris Foster for Technology Now magazine. "And while sales were robust in 2004, we predict that this is just the beginning."

Robust is right. Almost 40 million of the tracking devices were sold in 2004, compared to just 25 million digital music players. Nearly half of the total sales went to government agencies, in particular Homeland Security.

"Well, we started using them for people whose deportation hearings were pending," said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. "But then we realized what a great tool this could be for homeland security. In 2005 we'll be giving one to everyone who crosses the border with an accent, including selected Canadians. You know, the ones who are just a little too polite at the border crossing."

Typically these ankle bracelets are linked to detectors installed on user's home phones, particularly for those sentenced to home arrest (such as Martha Stewart). The latest gadgets rely on the same satellite technology now common in cell phones and are much less cumbersome than the bulky devices used just five years ago. In fact, several brands now sport stylish cases available in a variety of colors, a development spurred by the surprisingly high percentage sold to private individuals - approximately half, over 20 million units.

"Some customers have been companies seeking to keep better track on employee movement," noted Foster. "Wal-Mart was an early and aggressive adopter of this technology and now has trackers on nearly 80% of its workforce. But a lot of customers are just regular families who want to keep tabs on kids, pets, spouses, and so on."

"It's great!" said Bruce Fry, who purchased six of the devices last year. "I can check the whereabouts of my wife at any time during the day. Cingular Wireless lets me keep tabs on her throughout the whole city, and it's a comfort to know that if she gets lost, you know, on the way to the grocery store, or spends too long in the bathroom, I can check and make sure she didn't fall or something."

Security and law enforcement supply companies are the biggest sellers so far, but the surge in private sales has prompted other consumer electronic companies to consider branching out. Apple is rumored to be developing an iBracelet, and McDonalds is reportedly working to develop a children's version as a Happy Meal toy for later this summer.

"I envision a day when everyone has one of these," said Chertoff. "Imagine how that would change our country. I can't wait."

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