Train 'em up early: kids' phones rock!
Train 'em up early: kids' phones rock!

Train 'em up early: kids' phones rock!

Train 'em up early: kids' phones rock!

I was talking to my accountant last week; she’s a smart, self-employed mid-career professional with a husband and kids and she’s definitely one of the more practical-minded Europeans I know.

We were talking about ‘handys’ (keitai, in Germany), and I told her about the huge success the mobile Internet and 3G are having (still) in Japan, versus in Europe where no one’s making a single (Euro) cent on UMTS. Her reaction was typical, but interesting: “I’m not going to use the phone for sending mail or anything but talking. The keypad is far too tiny. It’s just not in the mindset of my generation.”

Interestingly, she added: “Perhaps if our kids started using them [data-enabled mobile phones] early, they’d grow up thinking about using it for all that mail and stuff. I’d buy a data handy for my daughter…” I jumped right in, and told her “that’s exactly what’s happening in Japan.”

Of course, Wireless Watchers like the smart readers of this newsletter know that the success factors behind mobile usage didn’t (and don’t) depend on youth growing up with i-mode. But it does look like carriers and handset makers are finally setting their sights on parents who are willing to equip their offspring with kiddy-custom keitai.

Following NTT DoCoMo’s November 2005 launch of Sanyo’s FOMA SA800i designed especially for kids, and the January 2007 introduction of Softbank’s copycat 812T, KDDI have jumped in with their new Junior-series, also featuring a Sanyo device (more info on KDDI’s past children-targeted models Here).

WWJ thinks that, despite D’s and SB’s similar products, K has hit the nail on the head, recognizing that selling mobiles to kids is more than just a battle to convince the kids to like ’em – you’ve also got to get the (bill-paying) oya on side. We think Mom and dad will like the new KDDI models because of the waay-cool GPS-based location tracking/monitoring service, allowing a parent to see where their keitai-carrying kids are at any time, in real time. Further, KDDI at least allow the kids to have a phone that doesn’t have “kodomo” plastered on the front bezel, like Softbank’s (could anything be less cool to your average 12-year-old?).

KDDI are also offering (free and nationwide!) in-house classes for Moms to explain, demo and teach all the safety features and how to use the GPS tracking.

With KDDI offering great GPS tracking (as do all three carriers), DoCoMo’s kids’ phone having a built-in 100-decibel alarm, and Softbank offering child-pleasing colors and a cool form factor, Japan’s carriers finally have a great service mix, a well-thought-out product and an extremely eager customer base.

What happens, exactly, when Taka-kun or Yumi-chan hits the ’emergency’ button?

    ++ The 100-dB alarm starts **screaming**
    ++ The phone automatically takes a snap of the scene
    ++ The phone dials a voice call to Mom or Dad or any other preset number
    ++ It also emails the just-taken photo to a preset address
    ++ It starts a ’emergency gps tracking’ routine that won’t stop until a pre-set termination point


Last month, Tomi Ahonen, one of WWJ’s favorite mobile thinkers (he’s also an outside advisor to WWJ’s parent company Mobikyo KK), was in Tokyo for the 3G Global Forum event. WWJ Digital Media Director Lawrence Cosh-Ishii caught up with Tomi for an insightful video interview. “I didn’t tell Tomi why I wanted to run him down to the KDDI Designing Studio, but we did make sure to get him a hands-on demo for the kids’ phone; he was so impressed that he made it part of his presentation at the 3G conference the next day,” says Lawrence.

Tomi also blogged the phones (“Now it only takes some time for this innovation to spread around the world. I think KDDI has approximately half a year head-start until its local rivals release similar services and phones.”) – we have a full video report online here to show these phones in action!

The point is, all carriers in Japan recognize that childrens’ phones is a highly lucrative segment that has until now been under exploited, primarily due to fears of packet-billing issues as well as security and safety concerns.

And whether the parents intend it or not, the current crop of pre-teens will grow up exactly as my accountant thinks they will – as the heaviest mobile Internet users ever. The carriers’ profit counters are sleeping very well this season.

KDDI wins big from MNP

KDDI are definitely on a winning streak with MNP churn. But their 3Q2006 numbers (announced end-January) show that the new customer adds cost them some serious Yen. It should be interesting to see how this story plays going forward in 2007 – remember we said last year: their tight focus on the domestic market really shows in the overall final product

We should add from personal observations down at Yodobashi Camera and from chatting to a few contacts in town: DoCoMo have likely had a pretty good February as well, on the strength of their 903i-series and new 703i models; Big D’s January was comparatively grim (the monthly subscriber numbers for February from the TCA will be out anytime – maybe even today).

Saving BIG with flat rate

Finally, a quick note from Chris Billich, a smart mobile guy and current associate of WWJ’s parent company Mobikyo KK. He posted an update on his company’s blog relating to data usage for one of the company’s phones. The line item in last month’s DoCoMo bill says it all: “By using the pakehoudai [flat-rate] option [a JPY 3,900 service plan option for unlimited usage of i-mode data] you saved 1.67 million JPY this month.” Wow!

— Daniel Scuka