Making the decision on what exactly the right age is to give a child their first mobile phone used to be a delicate one for parents. My sister and I didn’t get our first phones until we turned 16; kids these days are walking around with their father’s hand me down iPhone 4 when they’re in kindergarten. Older people worry kids are getting attached to technology too early, but parents say it’s the only way to know their kids are okay.
An Australian startup has created a new device that can provide that peace of mind without parents needing to splash out on a smartphone for a four year old. Adrian Lisle, Ryan O’Neill, and Tammy Barrett came up with the idea for the Moochies phone watch, essentially a smart watch of sorts dumbed down for kids aged 3 to 12, after Barrett’s experiences raising her daughter Talulah.
“As Tallulah grew up and was taken into public places, she developed a frightening habit of running away in order to get her mother to give chase. Tallulah, not knowing the possible dangers, saw this as an exciting game that gave her the 100 percent attention of her mother. Ryan saw the antics of his niece, and in conversation with me, we slowly came up with what we thought at the time was a technological solution for the genuine concerns that Tallulah’s behaviour gave Tammy as a mother,” Lisle said.
As well as being a perfectly functioning digital watch, the Moochies watches are fitted with a SIM card in order to both send and receive calls. Through the connected parent app, parents can preset two numbers into the watch, one for each button on the side of the watch.
There is also an SOS button that, when pressed, automatically records and sends a 15 second audio recording to parents. The watch is also a GPS tracker, helping parents keep track of where their kids are; the app allows parents to set up ‘safe zones’, such as school, home, or sports activity centres, and be alerted if their child wanders too far away.
That might all sound a bit extreme – after all, isn’t the whole point of being a kid to explore and develop a sense of adventure? But Lisle said that the trackability function is secondary to the communication element.
“Moochies allows easy and, most importantly, safe mobile communication for children – a feature parents and children will use multiple times a day, as opposed to tracking, which is an occasional concern. Social communication is potentially a much larger market than trackables,” Lisle said.
He explained further, “It allows parents to give slowly increasing levels of freedom to their young children, secure in the knowledge that they can contact them if there is ever a problem, and reassure themselves of the whereabouts of their child. It is the antidote to modern fears over child safety, which gives children the freedom to be safe.”
The watches will be shipped with SIM cards from Moochies partner networks, which buyers can choose to use or instead go with another network. Lisle said the team has had “significant pre-orders” as well as interest from two mobile phone networks, one of which is a “major global player.”
The watches start at $119, which doesn’t seem like a bad price for the peace of mind that they will provide parents when it comes to safety. Being a watch also means they’ll be harder to lose than a regular phone, and the limited functionality means parents don’t have to worry about what their kids get up to online like they would on a regular smartphone.
There is competition in the market, with Moochies very similar to existing products like fellow Australian offering TicTocTrack. However, the Moochies watch is significantly cheaper and their fun design is perhaps the biggest difference, which could make kids more excited about wearing them. The team is also looking to secure licensing rights from child-focused brands like Disney to produce branded watches, and as we all know, anything that’s got Disney princesses or superheroes on it is likely to sell well. Being able to swap the face of the watch for a different design would also be fun for kids and ensure that they don’t get bored of it.
The team is exploring the possibility of getting Moochies into retail stores, which could be a key area for growth; they already have contacts in the space, with Lisle and O’Neill the founders of Lettuce Wear, a handbag and accessories brand stocked in David Jones and over 600 boutiques around Australia. Their work with Lettuce Wear – for which sales have grown from $200,000 in 2008 to over $3 million last year – means Lisle and O’Neill have the business experience that should serve them well. Having self-funded the development of the first Moochies line, the founders are now looking to find investment to produce new products.
“The second and third generation of Moochies devices are in design now for release in 2016. These will segment our current market into a ‘pre-teen’ section, and a ‘younger child’ section. There will be added functionality for the parents, and more particularly for the child to make it increasingly desired by the child,” Lisle said.
Other products in the works include wearables for babies and for people with disabilities.
Image: Adrian Lisle. Source: Provided.