A new, screenless phone for young kids could help parents stay in touch with their children, without the adults having to worry that their kids are glued to smartphones.
The new device, called Snowfox, also comes equipped with a GPS tracker, letting parents know where their kids are, while helping children learn independence by letting them roam to places where they are allowed.
The new "trackerphone" is a waterproof, 2 x 2-inch (5 x 5 centimeters) square that comes in either pastel blue or pink. It comes with a lanyard that allows it to be connected to a key ring or carabiner hook. [Best Educational Toys & Games for Kids]
Snowfox's battery and low-power electronics let it operate for a week on a single charge, according to the company. The device can be recharged via a micro USB port.
A speaker and microphone allow two-way phone calls, and Snowfox's flexible antenna, which is hidden within a durable nylon tag, helps provide 3G and 2G service.
The phone connects to a free iPhone or Android app. The app can find a single child, displaying his or her current location and timeline of movements, as well as the battery level on the Snowfox. Up to five guardians, such as parents, grandparents and caretakers, can view a child's profile, the company said.
The app also has a map view to show the location of all trackerphones linked with the app. It can send alerts when kids have wandered where they are not permitted, and it can deliver notifications if they arrive or leave various locations.
Each Snowfox includes an embedded SIM card, which comes with a local call-in number, making it ready for use right out of the box, the company said. Unlimited voice and data are available via a pay-as-you-go plan that costs about $10 per month.
There is just one button on Snowfox. To use it to make a call, the child presses the button, which sends a notification to all the listed guardians' smartphones. Any guardian can then call the child, who can answer the incoming call by pressing the button once more. To make a call to a Snowfox phone, a parent or guardian can dial its number or simply use the app.
Less screen time means that kids will have more time for play, said Ville Ylläsjärvi, a co-founder of Haltian in Oulu, Finland, which designed and manufactures the device. Haltian's 80 or so employees are mostly former employees of one-time mobile device giant Nokia.
"I see way too many young kids with smartphones these days," Ylläsjärvi said. "Simply looking around, you can see kids playing with their devices and not doing stuff kids should be doing, like playing with friends outside, being in social situations and also interacting with the world around you. There have been multiple articles on kids suffering from delayed speech development, neck pains and posture development, which have been related to excessive smartphone usage at a very young age." [7 Ways to Short-Circuit Kids' Mobile Addiction]
Ylläsjärvi's own family members use Snowfox. "For our family, Snowfox Trackerphone has brought a lot of peace of mind," he said. "We have been able to have our 6-year-old daughter to play outside in the garden and be notified almost instantly of her going to the playground next door."
"We have now also allowed her to visit a friend living a few houses down and be able to call her to come home," Ylläsjärvi said. "Small but very meaningful things. I am really looking forward to her going to school next year and being able to be there for her and better in the know of what she does."
Devices that are similar to Snowfox include the GizmoPal from LG and the FiLIP from AT&T, but these come in the form of wristwatches, Ylläsjärvi said. "I think our form factor is more flexible for daily use, allowing multiple means for carrying," he said. "We have also found out that the wrist devices are not as comfortable to carry for the child."
An Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign for Snowfox began on June 28 and will last until Aug. 4. So far, the project has raised more than $21,000 of its $50,000 goal. If the campaign gets funded, Haltian aims to begin shipping Snowfox to its backers in October.
Snowfox will be available in 10 countries to start — the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland. Additional countries may be added during the Indiegogo campaign, the company said. The device is already on sale in stores in Finland.
Original article on Live Science.