As a parent with a tween myself, and a mobile technology expert (I used to write forPen Computing Magazine back in the 90's), this project really hit my sweet spot. T-Mobile wanted us to design a phone targeted specifically for tweens, aged 9-14.
I started with my own experience with phones, kids and parents. I knew that a smartphone for teens would be a tough sell. Not many parents will see the need for shelling out $30 per month for a data plan so their kid can download apps. My own son had already sent 4 phones through the wash, making me reluctant to purchase anything that would wind up destroyed with a 2 year contract left on it.
I began to design a phone that would withstand water, dropping and whatever else my kid could dish out, and then added some cool features like the ability to skin the phone, and a large camera button. When the prototypes and sketches were done, we reviewed the sketches in our first presentations and I realized that the phone was everything that it needed to be, and boring. My partner, was coming up with these crazy cool ideas that were fanciful and interesting, but would never fly with kids or parents.
I also noticed that a lot of my classmates were showing mobile phones meant to be used in the classroom. I thought to myself "ah, these kids don't have kids." My son's school forbids cell phones on campus. Students are allowed to bring them provided they are turned OFF and stored in a locker during the day. They may be brought out after school to call mom to get picked up. Clearly the schools regarded mobile devices as a distraction. About the same time, I asked the boys in my kid's Scout troop (I'm an assistant scoutmaster) who they call on their phones. "Mom or Dad," was the universal reply. Nobody else? Nope. Not really. What about your friends? We text each other or IM.
It occurred to me that what kids needed was not a phone—it was a messaging device. We then developed Bandit, a small wrist worn messaging device. Equipped with a GPS and voice recognition done server-side (with tech licensed from Nuance) Bandit allows kids to dictate messages to communicate. A radial keyboard interface allows them to type with swiping motions. radial menus also make the device easy to navigate with smaller fingers. Thanks to the voice recognition, it would be nearly impossible to use it during class without getting caught. Teachers wouldn't mind it. An onboard GOS chip could be pinged so parents could locate their kids and kids could locate their parents. We called it the "where's mom" feature.
T-Mobile liked the different idea and thought it could be viable as a good alternative to a phone which leveraged data—a more profitable revenue stream than voice or SMS.