ALISON SHEPARD, a marketing associate for a record label in Manhattan, straps an ultrathin iPod Nano onto her arm before she goes for a run. When she returns to her apartment, she takes off the Nano and turns on the bulkier iPod that has replaced her home music system.
Ms. Shepard also owns two cameras — a point-and-shoot model she bought for $100 and a bulkier, far more expensive single-lens-reflex version that she says lets her be more creative. She has a laptop computer that can play DVDs, as well as a portable DVD player.
Electronic gadgets come in all shapes, sizes and descriptions to appeal to a range of tastes and requirements. For a growing number of consumers, that means buying two or more models to get every feature they want.
So much for one size fits all.
“I bought my 60-gig iPod, along with speakers, to replace my stereo, basically to minimize all the stuff in my apartment,” Ms. Shepard said. “I didn’t want to run with my 60-gig iPod on my arm because if I fell and broke it, it would be expensive to replace.”
Ms. Shepard’s smaller iPod holds only a fraction of her music collection, but more than enough to entertain her during workouts. The larger iPod contains her entire collection. Like her music players, Ms. Shepard’s cameras serve different functions.
“I have a little digital camera that is great to take out to bars or to shows,” Ms. Shepard said. “But when I want quality photos, like when I go on vacation, I use my S.L.R.”
With the purchases of first-time gadget buyers leveling off, and even declining in some market segments, consumers like Ms. Shepard feed the industry’s dream. The trend of buying more than one model of the same type of device — whether for personal use or as a gift — means revenue growth for manufacturers.
Nearly every customer of the Apple iPhone, which is expected to come out late this month from AT&T, will almost certainly own a cellphone or a digital music player already — if not both. While most iPhone customers are likely to use the device as their sole cellphone, those who own a less expensive music player are likely to keep both for different purposes.
The iPhone (the four-gigabyte is $499; the eight-gigabyte, $599) combines a mobile phone, Internet access and messaging service and a touch-screen iPod. It is expected to appeal to so-called early adopters, who are always eager to buy the next big thing, regardless of the cost.
The average American household has 25 electronic devices, and the average adult spends about $1,200 a year to buy new ones, according to the latest figures from the Consumer Electronics Association, a Washington trade group. More of those purchases come from repeat buyers, who are often enhancing a collection of similar gadgets rather than replacing older models. Typically, these customers are looking for something either more portable or more sophisticated than they already own.
Repeat buyers bought about half of all digital cameras sold last year, for example, and are expected to overtake first-time digital camera buyers this year. In the personal electronics industry, companies expanded from marketing a single item to an entire household to marketing different products to different family members. (Take the new $70 digital camera for children from Fisher-Price.) Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis for the NPD Group, a market research firm, said that in the PC market, the trend started about four years ago with the rising popularity of notebook computers, which quickly turned one-computer households into multicomputer households.
“There is an upgrade path that encourages this trend,” Mr. Baker said, “often prompting people to pass down older versions of items within a household.”
Apple executives declined to estimate how many of the 46 million iPods the company sold last year were to repeat customers. But diehard Apple customers have begun buying more than one model the same way they might have owned both a Sony Walkman and a boombox 20 years ago. Apple sells three basic designs of the iPod, with prices from around $80 for the tiny Shuffle to $349 for a full-featured iPod.
Sony has observed consumers buying second and third digital cameras for at least the last two years. Most often, they are owners of point-and-shoot cameras switching to models that do more and cost less.
Ryan Penny, a news cameraman, owns a digital point-and-shoot camera, an analog camcorder and a high-end camcorder he uses to produce professional-level footage for personal projects. But he is eager to buy a digital mini-DVD camcorder that he can use without worrying about replacing it if he broke it or lost it. “I think the ability to buy a wide variety of products is good because there are so many different uses for different products,” Mr. Penny said. “I can’t bring my high-end camera everywhere, but I would never walk into a shoot with a palmcorder.”
Andrew Welder, a restaurant entrepreneur, owns several cameras, including a pocket-size digital model he bought for $250, which he likes to take when he travels by air and doesn’t want to check his bags. On road trips, he takes his two clunky, more expensive single-lens-reflex cameras, which he says take better photos.
When it comes to music, Mr. Welder has only one iPod, which holds all the music he likes. “Really, it comes down to portability and possession,” he said. “Personally, I am willing to sacrifice portability in order to be in possession of my entire collection. But other people might be O.K. with only part of their music collection.”