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Simplified Kid-Targeted Phones Flop

When the Migo and Firefly phones hit the market, there was a lot of discussion about how young was “too young” for a mobile phone. Lessons in other countries showed that 8-12 yr olds were active text messagers and enjoyed mobile phones, while parents liked the security of being able to reach the child. My experience with SK Telecom had taught me that kids this age actually ‘demand’ very cool, advanced handsets, but despite this, the US market decided to launch with the Migo and Firefly, two handsets with uber-simplified UIs, limited screens, no data functions, and no SMS. The phones only had the ability to call a few parent-approved numbers and 911. At the time of the Firefly launch, Mike called it “The Phone For Kids That Kids Won’t Use”, adding “the lack of a keypad for text messaging is seriously going to make kids wonder why they should bother with it at all.” Not surprisingly, now, Cingular and Verizon are dropping both the Migo (VZW) and the Firefly (AT&T) from their retail distribution chains. Turns out Verizon is now addressing this demographic with an LG model which, you guessed it, supports text messaging. The LG also addresses safety concerns with a GPS tracking feature called “Chaperone”.

My take on phones for the youngest among us is this: sub 8 years old, kids tend to misplace and lose things, so you need a device that attaches to the kid like a watch or neck-loop device. This one can be limited in functionality, but it has to offer something to the kid. The Migo and Firefly might have a run at this age group, because they are less self-conscious about having a “dorky kiddyphone”. 8-yrs old and up? Forget dumb devices – these kids know more about gadgets than you do, and they also know and care about what looks cool. Their device needs to look grown-up, but provide fun services, and then you can slip in the safety features under the radar. Why are kids so much more up-to-date on technology than adults? Click Read More for my take.

Answer: They're not. Kids aren't more up-to-date on technology than adults on a macro sense. They don't have a deep understanding of the social implications of Web 2.0, the legal pitfalls of DRM, or the importance of a new release of the MSFT OS, or dual-core processing. They could care less about these things.

What they DO have is a heck of a lot more time than the average adult, and less money. This means more time to tinker with their gadgets, and fewer total gadgets owned. This translates into high expertise in all devices owned. Every teen has clicked on every single sub-menu of their iPod or mobile phone, and tried every different option possible. They've poked around menus levels so deep you wouldn't know about them if you were a third level Wizard in a User Interface Dungeons and Dragons game. So, this does mean that they have an exceptional proficiency in handling the devices they have, but I do not accept that adults are "stupid" because they have a flashing 12:00 on their VCR. It's simply an indication that adults have higher priorities than figuring out the mundane menu structure that sets the clock in a device that isn't even supposed to be a clock anyways.

My VCR does not flash 12:00. I've retained the childhood curiosity that makes me go down ever single menu tree in every product I buy. It was easy when all I owned was an LED digital watch and a calculator -- but I promise you it costs me far more time today than you want to dedicate. I miss sleep for it, and sometimes I wish I could be normal and just go with the flashing 12.

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