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RocketBoard Targets Seniors

RocketBoard Inc. may not be the first computer keyboard maker to offer Internet buttons when it launches its product in April, but it is likely to be the first to openly recognize senior citizens as a target group. Not everyone, however, believes the plan will work.

Peter Sulick, president/CEO of RocketBoard Inc., said his company has spent the last year looking for ways to tap into the keyboard replacement market, which he estimates at 4 million annually. The company wants to distribute 4 million to 6 million of its keyboards in its first year.

Sulick said market tests have shown that the keyboard attracts computer users who have been online for less than six months and wanted Internet access to be easier. The tests have also shown that seniors are in that category, he said, and are purchasing computers at increasing rates.

“We want to hit [that market] hard,” he said. Offline, “seniors tend to buy a lot, and the ones who do get online are among the highest per capita in purchasing.”

Robert Keller, computer network manager at the American Association of Retired Persons, New York, doesn’t think seniors will want the Internet keyboards. Keller said working firsthand with seniors has taught him that they usually fear computer technology of any kind.

“I don’t think it’s a particularly good idea,” he said. “Getting them to sit down at a computer is hard enough. When you throw the simplest of new technology in the mix – anything flashy at all – it makes getting them started that much harder.”

Sulick said many consumers, regardless of age, fear programming requirements on products such as VCRs and might find the keyboard’s Internet buttons intimidating. “It has been something we’ve worried about,” he said. “But once they actually try it – it doesn’t get much easier than that.”

Barnes & Noble Inc., CDNow Inc. and Beyond.com have entered into an agreement with Rocketboard to have their sites preprogrammed on keyboards under generically labeled buttons. Users can re-program the buttons to go to whatever sites they wish. The e-retailers will pay RocketBoard an acquisition fee and a percent of the revenue earned through the buttons.

All revenue for RocketBoard will be made under such partnerships as well as retail agreements. Sulick said his company didn’t expect the keyboard sales to do more than cover expenses. The price of the keyboard has yet to be determined by RocketBoard, but is expected to cost $10 to $20 at appliance outlets, as well as online.

The best way to get people of retirement age excited about Internet-accessible keyboards, Keller said, would be to manufacture them specifically for the group and “advertise in such a way that they believed it was built just for them.”

“That’s exactly what we plan to do,” Sulick said.

“If, for instance, we were to make an AARP board and found out that 15 to 20 Web sites were popular among that group, we would load those in for that type of keyboard.”

Ideally, he said, a 60-year-old computer owner who has bought a chain saw and two hammers in the last six months would be offered a keyboard with a button that would go to that person’s favorite hardware site.

“Things like that are definitely within the business model we want to achieve,” Sulick said.

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