Author(s): Peter Bryer
Cute or creepy? Is it just too close to call?
Yesterday, LG introduced KizON, a chunky, colourful, plastic-filled wearable gadget that keeps kids connected to their parents. It's essentially a wrist-worn electronic monitoring device, allowing parents to track their child's location using GPS and network triangulation. Parents can receive location pings throughout the day, and are never more than 10 seconds away from making a panic call in cases when the bracelet phone isn't answered almost immediately. KizON will go on sale in South Korea today, and in North America and Europe later this year.
Wearables are one of the hottest headline trends of 2014, so it's no surprise that such demographic-specific wearable devices are being introduced (wearables are even a hot product category for pets — see Event Report: International CES 2014). KizON is not the first tracking device for kids. There's the Kickstarter-funded, $129 Tinitell, which the company founder calls "an affordable and durable wrist phone for kids." There's the KMS Wristband, another wrist-worn phone for geo-fencing and geo-following. There are even more, but LG's device is the first from a major smartphone manufacturer.
However, this isn't the first iteration of such kids' devices. Dozens of simplified child-tracking phones have hit the market in many different shapes and sizes over the past 10 years, including several concealed inside teddy bears. These products have had a mixed track record. In 2006, Disney introduced a phone and service that enabled parents to track their child's location and phone usage, but the company shut the venture down a year later. At a similar time, LG introduced the Migo, a robust little children's phone with GPS tracking. It met with some success on Verizon's network in the US, but was priced at $220, limiting its addressable market. A series of similar devices with cute names came and went, including the Firefly and TicTalk.
Device makers believe that the special ingredient in this latest round of children's devices is the wearable element. LG highlights in its press release that there is less worry about misplacing a wearable. The basic logic to this argument is sound, although there is no evidence that other products failed owing to concern about losing the device. An additional complication for some of the previous devices was parents' concerns about health-related aspects of their children using cellular devices. CCS Insight believes that gadgets worn close to the body will exacerbate these concerns and will affect market acceptance.
There are certainly real-world situations that prove the use of such technology (a child lost in the shopping centre, for example) and this is a product category to monitor, but devices as physically and personally obtrusive as the KizON have their obstacles. Whether hand-me-down handsets with prepaid cards have met their maker in wearables isn't clear.