FiLIP: A cellphone for kids that makes sense

Among unrealistic and often useless tech toys for kids today, a new wrist-worn cellphone in bright colors has the means to be an important tool for parents to keep their kids safe.

Image courtesy of Filip Technologies
An image of the FiLIP wrist cellphone, which is available in one size designed to fit children ages 5-11.

Seeing news of the colorful new FiLIP wearable all-in-one mobile phone, watch, and emergency beacon for kids that comes with a smart phone tracking app, may have some parents making a kid technology bucket list, while others remain skeptical. 

Reading about the FiLIP, which launched at the end of January, brings to mind a montage of futuristic devices that were once only in the homes of cartoon characters like “The Jetsons” and “Dick Tracy.”

According to Gerald Celente, publisher of the Trends Journal and director of the Trends Research Institute in Kingston, N.Y., “The kiddie tech industry is still in the growth stage – it’s huge.”

“For kids today technology is not second nature it’s first nature. They can scroll before they can walk,” Mr. Celente says. “I’m not a fan of this nanny-state technology. I should have been dead a hundred times with all the crazy things I did as a kid. Some survive. Some don’t.”

For the record, Celente doesn’t have children.

I called a friend who is tech-forward dad, Beau Turner, founder of the 757 Makerspace in Norfolk, Va., to find out his thoughts on making kids tech-forward too.

“Technology is smaller, more accessible and they get to pick out and find what works,” Mr. Turner said in an email about his son Dylan, 10, who recently was given a cellphone. “Giving them a smartphone, FiLIP, bluetooth tracker, etc.... is a balance and you have to fine tune to what is right for your family and balance to your needs.”

Another tech dad I know here in Norfolk, BC Wilson, director of cloud services for business software company Xtuple, and father to Lucy, 6, and James, 9, has already been down the “give your kids a cellphone” route with poor results.

“Sadly, I've found that giving tech, such as my retired iPhone, to my kids only results in them playing hours of Candy Crush Sage and Clash of Clans, not creating new worlds or composing amazing digital photo books,” Mr. Wilson says.

Wilson’s observations, and a few experiences in my own, are reasons why I think the better way to give tech to kids is to modify devices originally designed for use by adults, into a version for children that helps us parent smarter and with more confidence.

FiLIP launched in January, and its accompanying smart phone app is the latest tech combo to fit the bill.

This is a very basic wearable phone for kids, ages 5 to 11, that can hold five pre-programmed numbers such as Mom, Dad, Grandma, etc.

FiLIP is made from high-impact rubber, comes in primary colors, is water resistant, and looks sturdy with a “C-shaped” wrist band, free of frustrating buckles or clips.

All this appeals to me, particularly as a mom who has already had the experience of seeing a guilty-looking teenage son walk in the door with a dripping wet or pulverized cellphone in hand.

It’s also a device designed by a Norwegian dad after briefly losing his son Filip, now 8, in a crowded shopping mall for 30 minutes, when the boy was a toddler.

“It was the worst 30 minutes of my entire life to this day,” says FiLIP creator Sten Kirkbak. “After that, I looked and looked for some technology that I could buy so it would never happen again. There was nothing. Simply nothing available that did what I needed.”

The FiLIP has a panic button, which when held down for more than three seconds, activates an emergency beacon that sends emergency messages via e-mail to all the phone numbers on the child’s pre-programmed call list.

“Also the watch then begins to ping back to us via satellite, so police can follow the movements every moment after that,” Mr. Kirkbak says.

After 20 years of parenting four boys, I wish I had a time machine to go back and slap one of these on the wrist of each of my boys when they were younger.

Then I could take back all the shrill greetings I gave them after “being worried sick” over their whereabouts.

Kirkbak confirmed that I’m not the only parent with the potential for worrying my kids into seclusion.

“Our research in the US shows very clearly how many parents are keeping their children indoors for fear of losing contact with them,” he says. “The worry over safety has stopped parents from letting kids explore, exercise, and have a healthier childhood.”

I’d most like to place these phones on the wrists of my son Ian and his girlfriend, both 18, neither of whom ever answers their cellphones, prompting me and her mother to morph into rage monsters when we can’t locate them for hours on end.

I thought the teens would balk at the idea, but instead they were ecstatic.

“Are you kidding me?” Ian's girlfriend cried. “An easy phone I wear and my mom would just know where I am without worrying all the time? Sold!”

I had to tell them the device is still kid-sized with a grown-up price, $200, and is run via the AT&T network only. There is also a $10 monthly fee and an activation fee of $36. 

The devices have pre-installed SIM cards and can be bought online with an activation code that does not require a family to switch all their plans to AT&T just to put one of these on a child.

Kirkbak says he’s had many requests to expand the product line to teens and adults and he and his team are working on making the technology available to those over age 11.

“Actually, we are working on making the tracking app able to track any smart phone and be for sale without the watch,” Kirkback says. “That way, if your teen or senior citizen has a smart phone and you have our FiLIP App you can track their location." Which means the app would work on other smart phones and could be used all on its own to track any smart phone without the watch.

When Kirkbeck is done with that, maybe he can get started on my kid tech bucket list which includes: an “Unplugbot” that follows us all around removing chargers not in use from wall sockets. At the top of my bucket list is something to eliminate the misery of fitting rooms at clothing stores. I was thrilled to learn the device is already here, although not quite ready for major market consumption just yet.

The Fashion3D ‘Virtual Changing Room’ at the Flux Lounge in London might actually make clothes shopping with kids a positive experience that happens in minutes rather than hours. Fashion3D can capture, share, and “reflect” the image of an adult in the clothing that they are virtually trying on. When used with children it could make it easier to convince children to try new styles in minutes, rather than a whole afternoon.

Until all these great technological advances are both available and affordable, I am glad to know that the FiLIP is here so kids can be left to their own devices and stay safe.

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