Designing Mobile Phones for Children: Is there a Difference?

Designing Mobile Phones for Children: Is there a Difference?

Janet C. Read (University of Central Lancashire, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-499-8.ch020
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The mobile phone is one of the most ubiquitous technologies in the developed world. In a market dominated by adults and older teenagers, one group of users that is relatively new to the mobile phone market is children. When children use mobile phones their needs are sometimes complicated by, or conflict with, the needs of their parents or primary care givers. As the laptop is being redesigned to make it accessible to children, it is worthwhile to ask the question ‘Do children need a different sort of mobile phone than their parents?’ By considering data about the use and usage of mobile phones, research on designing special children’s technologies, and research on the needs of children as mobile phone users, this paper presents the argument that the mobile phone needs a design re-think if it is to meet the needs of children.
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The Uptake Of Mobile Phones

In 2004, Prensky suggested there were more than 1.5 billion phones in the word, a figure that is more than three times the number of personal computers in the world at that same time (Prensky, 2004). Four years on, even conservative reports would expect there to be over 2 billion mobile phones worldwide and it is interesting to note that, in discussions of how to breach the digital divide, the mobile phone is lauded as the single most influential piece of technology (Kamssu, 2005).

Whilst the first mobile phones were used only by adults—the car phone was the leader in this domain—as time has moved along, the age of first use of mobile phone technology has dropped. Thus, whilst older teenagers have long been considered primary users of mobile phone technologies, more and more studies report significant uptake of mobile phone technology in younger teens and children.

Children are significant users of mobile technology in all forms. They are primary consumers of mobile games consoles, mobile media players and mobile phones. In the Western world it is common for children as young as six and seven to own at least one mobile device with most children in the age group 11 to 13 having at least two, and invariably three mobile devices, most usually a mobile phone, a handheld games console and a media player.

The general age at which children acquire mobile technology is falling. Previously the age that most children got their first mobile phone in the UK was 13/14, now it is understood to be 10/11. The games console market has recently adjusted for younger children with the Nintendo DS being very popular with children aged 5, 6 and 7, and mobile media players, once the technology of adults, are now common childhood accessories with around 40% of children aged 12 and 13 having personal ownership of an iPod or similar device (Hart, 2007, National Opinion Poll, 2001).

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