Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Mobile Play and More Cells for Tweens

The market for cell phones for kids has had quite a few false starts in the past couple of years, but that's not stopping the industry from trying again this spring with two new product lines aimed squarely at tweens/kids. Gary Rusak, of KidScreen has recently covered announcements by two cell phone companies--PlayPhone and kajeet--that are attempting to finally break through parental and lack-of-interest barriers by combining cell phones with pre-established games and play activities. The most recent, by PlayPhone, intends to combine a pay-as-you-go phone service with popular virtual pet game Tamagotchi. As Rusak writes:
Due out before the summer, the line of brightly colored Tamagotchi handsets are programmed with a digital pet that users hatch, feed, clean and play with in a mobile game environment. Wallpaper, custom ring tones and a bevy of related casual games are also part of the package, and kids can customize their phones even more with content credits and downloadable features available on www.TamaPhone.com.

This follows on the heels of a similar announcement last week by cell phone manufacturer kajeet, who has now secured deals with Limited Too, Best Buy, Nickelodeon and Gameloft to produce a line of pay-as-you-go phones for kids that will also combine phone service with (media-branded) "casual games" and other entertainment-focused downloads (www.kajeet.com). Although Rusak doesn't mention it in his article, the kajeet line will also employ a character-based strategy, combining virtual characters and narrative elements into an interface called "Dudeworld".

Like other kids' phones before them, the TamaPhone and Kajeet line both promise to alleviate parents' fears about excessive access and spending by allowing them to set limits on web functions and downloads, as well as control incoming and outgoing calls. The major difference here seems to be the focus on pay-as-you-go...which makes it easier to get into on a trial basis I think...as well as the pre-programmed integration of games and activities kids actually like (as opposed to just talking on the phone with your parents). I think that older kids' cell models, such as the Firefly, failed in part because they didn't include games and other special features...the phones were much too "dumbed down" to be cool among the (ahem) "tech-savvy" tween market. On the other hand, the prospect of using Tamagotchi to peddle cell phone service to kids is particularly troubling--you would kind of have to have your cell on to feed and interact with your pet, which seems much too manipulative of children's emotions to truly constitute as fair marketing. (For my overall stance on kids' cell phones, you can check out my previous blog post here.)

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