New Cell Phones Target ‘Tweens’

It’s a modern parental dilemma: Should children have cell phones? Hectic schedules make it convenient to be able to reach your 10-year-old when he’s at swimming lessons and you’re stuck in traffic. But if you decide to go that route, is your child responsible and mature enough to use the phone correctly and appropriately?

While a lot of that depends on individual children and family styles, there are several new products aimed at “tweens” (8 to 12 year olds) that can help nudge the decision: Firefly from Firefly Mobile; TicTalk from Enfora; LeapFrog; and yet-to be released efforts from a Disney-Sprint partnership.

Small and Simple

Firefly is a simplified cell phone that fits comfortably in a child’s hand. It has only five buttons and offers parental control of phone calls. It can be purchased online through Firefly or at Target for US$100 with 30 minutes of calling time included.

Randy Salzman, managing partner, Tek Elements, a business consulting firm specializing in telecom and wireless, told TechNewsWorld he’s not convinced this will be a compelling product.

“First of all, I think that most kids that get phones are going to end up with hand-me-downs from their parents, rather than phones the parents go out and buy specifically for the kids. The Firefly concept is a good one, but in practice I believe that most parents will opt to give their kid a full-function, albeit slightly used, phone along with a good discussion about being responsible and using it according to a set of rules,” he said.

Lots of Controls

TicTalk, which is aimed at kids as young as 6, allows parents to control how and when the phone is used, with whom the user can talk, what times the phone can ring and how many minutes can be used. It is US$99 online, but will be available in stores by the end of the year. It also carries a $10 activation fee and does not come with any calling time.

Salzman believes that there are some financial incentives to stick with the carrier the family already has instead of introducing one of these new products.

“It is interesting that Family Plans from Verizon and others have been shown to drive down average revenue per unit, but at the same time reduce churn,” he said. “I think this will be a plus for the carriers in the long term. I now have my nanny and soon my son on my calling plan. That is two additional barriers to changing carriers, especially since phones in the U.S. are essentially locked to a carrier. If I wanted to change to T-Mobile from Verizon Wireless, I’d have to get three new phones, which is not very appealing, considering the cost.”

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