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The Latest: Not just trendy

T-Mobile Sidekicks are more than a fashion statement for the deaf community

 by Kate Kliner
 published on Thursday, April 28, 2005

Now popular like iPods and portable PlayStations, Sidekicks have become a common and trendy piece of technology.  Sidekicks were originally used by people with hearing impairments to text message, surf the Internet and talk to friends. 
/issues/arts/693124
Brandon Quester / STATE PRESS MAGAZINE
Now popular like iPods and portable PlayStations, Sidekicks have become a common and trendy piece of technology. Sidekicks were originally used by people with hearing impairments to text message, surf the Internet and talk to friends.
 

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Being trendy doesn't just mean short, torn jean skirts and hideous Ugg boots.

These days, electronic devices such as the iPod and PlayStation Portable are part of the see-and-be-seen crowd.

The T-Mobile Sidekick is one of those must-have devices.

The Sidekick, a cell phone, became "the thing" after photographers started capturing celebrities such as Paris Hilton carrying the all-in-one device with them wherever they went.

But what most people may not know is that these phones were available three years ago and originally were most popular in the hearing-impaired community, who used the phones to text message, instant message and surf the Internet.

ASU business and digital media marketing freshman Steven Craig, who is deaf, says he bought his Sidekick before the hype.

"They are just starting to become more mainstream," Craig says. "It's like a portable computer, but much smaller than a laptop. Everyone uses PDA, cell phones and pagers and they are all in one little machine."

Before he got his Sidekick, Craig used a text telephone device. The device is much larger than Sidekicks, and converts text into a conversation through a telephone operator or directly to another device.

Although most of his friends, who are also deaf, own Sidekicks, Craig says that some of them formerly used Motorola two-way pagers for communication.

But Craig liked the Sidekick so much more, that he bought the newer version -- the Sidekick II -- in August. He says he likes his new Sidekick a lot better than the first one.

"The first model had a lot of problems, but this one has been good for me so far," he says. "It has a better design and lasts longer, and I predict that the next model will have a better flash for the camera and extra goodies."

Craig says he uses most of the features on his phone, including the camera, calculator, Internet, notes to communicate with others in person, AOL Instant Messenger and games, among others.

"I use my Sidekick for everything," he says. "I love it, and it's almost like it's attached to me. It's perfect for making plans at the last minute, and it's portable, too."

But mostly, Craig says he uses it to communicate with his deaf friends through Instant Messenger.

"It's easy to use and has a good monthly plan," he says. "I text my friends all the time, and I also use the video phone to send pictures to my family."

Sidekicks are much more expensive than regular cell phones, running at about $300 a pop. However, Craig says that T-Mobile has special deals geared specifically toward deaf people, and that there are also offers on the Internet.

According to www.t-mobile.com, the new thin Sidekick II "makes it even easier to stay in the know and on the go," and is "the ultimate communication device."

Craig says, "Sidekicks are a great invention for people whose lives revolve around text messaging and AIM."

ASU marketing senior Aaron Blumenthal, who previously worked for MCI as a telephone relay operator for the hearing impaired, says MCI is responsible for outsourcing the relay messages for Arizona.

He says that about 20 percent of the calls he received were from text telephone devices and about 80 percent were from the Internet, I-P relay or Sidekick phones.

"People are really moving away from TTD machines (text telephone devices), and I found that it was usually older people that used them to communicate through MCI."

Blumenthal says Sidekicks have really taken off with the deaf population.

"People who are hearing impaired adore Sidekicks because it helps out with their everyday lives, and in essence, that's what a good piece of machinery does," he says.

Blumenthal adds that many deaf people were very excited when the Sidekick II came out.

"When T-Mobile first announced that the Sidekick II was coming out, about 80 percent of the calls that came in pertained to when they were going to be available," he says.

However, Blumenthal says that Sidekicks might not be necessary for people who are not deaf.

"They are pretty expensive and larger than a regular cell phone," he says. "Most people just want a phone, and they don't need all of the extra features. But for deaf people, they really need everything the Sidekick has to offer, and it's a way of life for them."

He adds, "Sidekicks are just one of the many ways for people who can't speak or hear or are hard of hearing to access general communications.

"It's a great tool for them."

Reach the reporter at kate.kliner@asu.edu.



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