March 16th, 2006

A Second Grader’s Cellphone – the Migo

“Why WOULDN’T I buy my daughter [she is seven years old] a cell phone? It COSTS me NOTHING AND it makes her HAPPY. I would be an idiot not to. It’s five dollars a month. It’s nothing. Besides, it means my child cries five days less a year when my wife is late to pick her up from school. Why WOULDN’T I get her a cell phone?”

I had the wonderful and rare opportunity to talk with a seven year old who has a cell phone earlier this week. I know her father from business school.

Somehow it came up in our conversation last week that he had purchased one for her for Christmas a few months ago. He said that it was her favorite present by far.

My first question to him last week (before I met up with his daughter this week), was, of course, “Why does she need a cell phone? You drop her off. You pick her up. She goes to school three blocks away from where you live. She doesn’t go anywhere on her own otherwise.”

The answer [see above] was “Why wouldn’t I?”

So, I had the chance to speak with his wife and daughter yesterday AND I got to see the Migo.

One of my first impressions was, “why does my phone have to be silver? I want a shiny green phone like the Migo.”

Both his wife and daughter LOVE having the cell phone. Some background information and then the rest of the interview follows.

Their daughter is an extremely precocious and responsible second-grader. She is very well read, and she prefers reading to video games and TV.

Julie: “Do you like your cell phone?”
(Daughter) “Yes, I really like having a cell phone.”
“How many kids are in your class at school?”
“Twenty.”
“How many have cell phones?”
“Two.”
“Why do you like your cell phone?”
“Because I can call my mom after school.”
[Her mom says it gives her daughter a lot of comfort to know that she can reach her parents anytime.]
“Where do you take the phone?”
“Just to school.”
“How often do you use your phone?”
“Every day to call my mom.”
[Doesn't call Dad at work so really not using the phone for random calls even to her parents. Just using the phone to see when her Mom is picking her up even if she is there at the school already. Just something she does every day now. Also, her parents say she doesn't run up the bill. She'll talk all day on the home phone, but cell phone calls are very brief.]
“Do you take it with you when you go to swim practice?”
“No, just to school. I am only allowed to turn it on after school when I am waiting outside for my mom.”
“Where do you carry it?”
“There is a special pocket in my backpack.”
[I will admit - it looked like it was in great shape.]
“Do you friends ever ask if they can use it?”
“That would be silly. They can only call my mom’s cell phone, my dad at work, my dad’s cell phone or our home phone.”
“Are you afraid that someone might steal it?”
“That would be silly, too. They can only call my parents. One time a boy at school wanted to press the ‘EMERGENCY’ button, but I wouldn’t let him. That would be irresponsible. I am not allowed to do that.”
“How do you charge it?”
“My mom charges it for me.”
[Her mom says she charges it about once a week since she only has it on for brief periods after school.]
“How do you work the phone?”
“I press ‘1′ to call my Mom’s cell phone, ‘2′ to call my Dad’s cell phone, ‘3′ to call my Dad at work, and ‘4′ to call home. I don’t know what these buttons on the side are for.” [They were volume buttons]
“Did you memorize those numbers (i.e., ‘1′ is ‘Mom’)? Or can you read the screen?”
“I can read what it says. See, it says ‘Dad’s cell phone.’”
[Feedback from Dad ... royal hassle to program even four numbers into a handset that has no keypad.]
“Do you let your [younger] brother use your cell phone?”
“No.”
[Note from Mom - her brother wouldn't be interested in any electronic device without a lot of buttons and a camera.]

Then I showed her some of the features on my phone – games, video, etc.
“Can you figure out where the games are on my phone?”

She spends about a minute before landing on the games page. She selects “Bubble Ducky” and promptly destroys my high score on her first try. She then tries “Frogger.” That lasts about 30 seconds before she decides it is too complex and wants to return to “Bubble Ducky.” She was very interested in the game [I didn't literally have to pry it from her hands on the way out the door ...], but she was very aware that that was something she should not and could not have on her own cell phone because she is not allowed to play games at school. Her favorite feature was the high scores and seeing her progress – even at the age of seven.

Then, I showed her video. I was surprised once I looked how little content was appropriate for her. I asked her about Sesame Street – “no, boring.” I asked about some Nick – that got an “ok.” She was bored after two minutes and wanted to return to Bubble Ducky.

Overall, everyone was more than satisfied with the experience. Programming numbers was hard – by design, I guess, and her Mom wanted an alert when it needed to be recharged.

Otherwise, Verizon seemed to be doing everything right with the marketing. Our own data confirms that the scenario described above is pretty typical. Parents become interested in buying cell phones for their children and adding them to their plan in case of an emergency. The decision becomes very easy with the low price points (value proposition.)

I have a piece of research due out soon with data (attitudes, demographics, behaviors) from both the teens and their parents.

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