- The Washington Times - Friday, December 22, 2006

MP3 players, digital cameras and flat-screen televisions are what many Christmas dreams are made of this year.

But joy over an electronic gift can turn into rage before the product is even turned on: How do I actually play songs on this thing? Why won’t the camera take pictures? The red plug or the yellow one — and why is there a white one, too? Why is the computer screen flashing? Is that smoke coming from the wires?

And for the technological faint of heart, suddenly it’s a Christmas nightmare of confusing manuals and wires.

Years ago, problems with gifts had to wait until Dec. 26, at the earliest, to be sorted out. But as the presence of electronic gadgets around the Christmas tree has grown, so have the number of methods to help sort out the madness — immediately. Just call the technology geeks.

Best Buy, Circuit City Stores Inc. and third-party companies all promise instant help with high-tech products, even all day on Christmas.

Circuit City’s help service, Firedog, began operations this fall and has beefed up staff in preparation for Christmas.

“We’re planning for Christmas day to be busy,” said Leslie Troxell, director of PC services for Firedog at Circuit City. “We think a lot of people won’t work that day and will want to use [their products] right away.”

Firedog, Geek Squad (Best Buy’s service component) and third-party groups, such as PCPinpoint, can help customers set up digital cameras, MP3 players, wireless Internet or an entire computer. Firedog and Geek Squad sell in-home service, while all the companies can help over the phone or by remotely accessing a customers’ computer — through the Internet — and doing the work for the customer.

PCPinpoint.com Chief Executive Officer Bob Wing said Christmas Day is typically light, but the calls start pouring in the following day. He expects this year, as more people learn about the service, to be a busy Monday.

“I don’t think consumers really know there is a company out there that will support total PC care — anything that attaches to a computer — gaming controls, keyboard — no matter who manufacturers it,” he said.

Electronics have grown to be one of the top-desired gifts, competing with clothing, books and videos, especially for young people.

According to the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association, 46 percent of people ages 13 to 28 said electronics were on the top of their wish list this year. More than 12 percent of those surveyed identified an IPod or IPod accessories as their most-wanted gift.

While some people who receive the high-tech gifts know how to use them, others don’t. But the technology companies are the matchmakers for MP3 players without songs, cameras without photos and televisions without a cable connection.

Fees range from $29.95 for a one-time trial of PCPinpoint’s services to $49 for Firedog or Geek Squad’s remote help in setting up a digital camera, printer and software.

More information on the services is available at PCPinpoint.com, Firedog.com, or GeekSquad.com. All said their phone service operators are based in the United States.

“People just don’t know where to start. Post-holiday time, we’re definitely busy,” said Jeff Heiderman, a Geek Squad employee based in Baltimore. “We do a lot of training and setups of printers and cameras. The day after Christmas, we have a lot of customers who have gotten these gifts and are having trouble setting them up.”

While there is a rush of calls just after electronics are opened, there are also calls months later from people who grew frustrated with their electronics and put them aside in December.

“Christmas and the holiday are great,” Ms. Troxell said. “But leaving things in the box is not what it’s all about.”

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