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Paradise Lost


blue kids phone

Childhood is a time of innocent play and coming to understand the wider world. At least that’s the ideal, although another vision is of course kids loving to play with the latest gadgets, particularly if their friends have them too.

If that’s true then kids in Japan should be pretty excited that Docomo has developed a smartphone for preteens (nine to twelve year olds) which will go on sale in February.

The Sharp-built device, which boosts a 4.1-inch screen and runs on Android 4.0, “fits comfortably in the hands of a preteen” says the operator – its dimensions are 117 mm (height), 63 mm (width) and 10.6 mm (thickness).

The device, whose full name is Smartphone for Juniors, also features a 12 megapixel camera and comes in three colours: blue (pictured) pink and white, presumably targeting boys, girls and a unisex model.

Docomo is playing up how secure the handset is for children to use. It enables parents to control voice calls and usage by setting restrictions both on the time of the day the smartphone can be used and the maximum amount of time that can be spent using the phone.

The Sharp device is also equipped with an alarm which automatically calls a registered contact in the case of an emergency. It also features a spam filter to block access to unsuitable websites. And access to certain apps can be restricted too.

In fact, its comes with a set of wholesome apps including a “a youth-friendly” guide to the safe usage of smartphones, an English-Japanese dictionary, an allowance journal, games and an education navigator app. Perhaps not the most exciting selection for kids, but calculated to reassure parents.

Docomo will offer a flat-rate package, which is called Xi Pake-hodai for Juniors, together with the smartphone at JPY2,980 ($34) per month.

The rationale behind such a release is that in wealthier markets the mainstream market (those aged roughly 16-60 years old let’s say) is so highly penetrated, it makes sense to look at demographics at either end of the scale: older users or, in this case, the preteen market.

Docomo has some form in this regard. Last summer, it launched a Fujitsu-built smartphone targeted at older users.

Still, targeting such young users is still relatively unusual among mobile operators although more so among handset vendors. In some countries it might still be controversial, although less that children have phones (a growing proportion do in many countries) than that a company is marketing to them directly.

A lot of such targeting is implicit, of course, which means children have handsets but they are not specifically designed for them. And that’s what is different with this Docomo device.

So will it sell? In many countries, children receive their parents’ unwanted phones. It’s more economic that way than buying a model targeted at a child. Hence, some inherited devices could be low-end featurephones or they might be an iPhone or Galaxy S III (the latter two obviously qualifies as spoiling by any standard). By developing an Android-based device, Docomo hopes to tackle the most aspirant preteen.

However there are voices who argue that childhood should be preserved as long as possible and possessing a mobile phone represents an unwanted intrusion from the adult world. Increasingly, these views are historic but many like to preserve them as ideals, even if they are no longer realistic.

Fujitsu, who built Docomo’s smartphone for older users, has just released the device for international markets. It is targeting markets in the US and Europe.  It will be interesting to see if Sharp’s pre-teen model also leaves home.

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.

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