Phones For Young and Old in South Korea
By Eric Lin, Thu Jul 29 03:15:00 GMT 2004

Korean Carriers have started to sell phones designed for the most overlooked demographics: the very young and the very old.

Following recent reports that young children are the fastest growing demographic for mobile phones in countries with high subscriber penetration, SK Telecom has launched a phone designed specifically for youngsters. The phone is not just a ruggedized version of a standard handset with bigger buttons like a "My First Sony" cellphone. Instead the handset is highly simplified and designed to look like a digital animal head with antennas for ears. It only has five buttons -- one for power and four to dial pre-programmed numbers with one touch.

Phones targeted at elementary school kids aren't so much for the children's benefit, but for the parents' piece of mind. If they buy one of these new handsets, parents can subscribe to a tracking service for $2.50 per month that will help them find their child or alert them when the child has left a certain area. For tracking purposes, the phone has a built GPS transmitter that works even when the phone is off.

Another South Korean carrier, LG Telecom, will offer a mobile phone for aging subscribers instead. The NS 1000 is an inexpensive handset with large buttons and a high contrast monochrome LCD display. To lower costs and simplify use, it is limited to voice calls and text messaging. Unlike SK Telecom's child-focused handset, the NS1000 isn't quite as well thought out. Although the display may be legible, the text on the buttons is not Nor does it look like the manufacturer, Interpulse, spent any time tweaking the menus or UI for usability among the aging either. Although LG deserves credit for at least trying to offer a phone even grandma could use, other companies are designing handsets for the elderly that bear more than a passing resemblance to the simplicity of SK's device. At least with this model, kids old enough to get a full featured phone can send their grandparents little love note text messages.

In a society where people are busier and home less, offering mobile devices to traditionally home-bound age groups makes sense. Carriers and marketers no doubt see this as a way to capture every last citizen as a user. If they focus on the needs and abilities of each age group, they are more likely to add users in these last bastions of mobile phone adoption than if they just use new marketing messages.