Gadgets to Go

Outward Mobility

More family vehicles, including GM's Cadillac Escalade, are becoming high-tech road shows, with entertainment and navigation devices galore.
More family vehicles, including GM's Cadillac Escalade, are becoming high-tech road shows, with entertainment and navigation devices galore. (By Hunter Wilson --
By Warren Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 31, 2005

It was the Manglapus family vacation.

Ria Manglapus, a colleague of mine, was driving with earphones. She was listening to her favorite jazz station on a portable satellite radio -- the Delphi XM2go.

That meant she could listen to the same station, with few interruptions, on the entire 700-mile trip from her home in Northern Virginia to her vacation spot near Chicago.

Manglapus's two sons -- 10-year-old Q ("just 'Q,' thank you") and Bori, 15 -- were in the second row of the 2003 Honda Odyssey minivan watching a movie on a small, ceiling-mounted video screen. They were joined by their cousin Martin, 11.

When the movie ended, the boys slept. When they awakened, they pulled out tiny consoles and played electronic games.

Occasionally, Manglapus would point out a geographic point of interest. The boys politely acknowledged her attempt at education but then returned to their electronic beeps, booms and bangs. Manglapus returned to her earphones.

The family traveled with its own communications system -- three Nokia cell phones and two long-range Motorola walkie-talkies. And they took along a backup entertainment package just in case they wound up in a roadside hotel without cable television -- a portable digital video disc player that also doubled as an MP3 music library and player. The DVD/MP3 player could be used in the minivan as well.

Sociologists might cite the Manglapus vacation as evidence of growing dysfunction in American family life. But consumer electronics manufacturers and retailers, and a growing number of automobile companies, see it as a gold mine.

The numbers are scattered, but they are nonetheless impressive. Sales are booming, for example, in the satellite radio industry, dominated by District-based XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc. and Sirius Satellite Radio Inc. in New York. They are subscription radio services, in much the manner of satellite and cable television. Satellite radio sales totaled $300 million last year, a 140 percent increase over 2003, according to figures provided by the Consumer Electronics Association.

Sales of mobile DVD players are growing, along with those of mobile electronic navigation systems in cars and trucks. Sales of mobile video display screens and related equipment were $830 million last year, almost double their 2003 revenue. The CEA is predicting $2 billion in sales of mobile electronics accessories of all sorts this year.

We are witnessing a lucrative migration of the pleasures and conveniences of home to the automobile, afforded by rapid advances in digital electronics, said Tracey Malone, consumer electronics expert for Best Buy.

The growth of digital electronics is pushing the trend. Technology is changing the sociology of American family life.

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