Rogers Wireless, the Canadian mobile operator, yesterday announced that it is the latest carrier to start selling the Firefly mobile phone, a handset designed specifically for children under the age of 13. Since launching in March 2005, Firefly has met with almost universal acclaim from within the industry and carriers seeking to both fulfill their ambitions of corporate responsibility and attract lucrative ‘family calling plan’ customers.
Firefly has been designed specifically for younger kids. It is more compact than most handsets, designed to fit comfortably in small hands. Parental controls are a key feature, enabling mum and dad to programme numbers into the handset and even block unrecognised incoming calls.
Uniquely, it also manages to look cool. And by that I don’t mean cool in a ‘designed by a 40 year old with a degree in youth marketing’ cool, but ‘genuinely, this will actually appeal to kids’ cool. The casing is made from translucent plastic, it has a smooth and curving form factor and a range of lighting effects which make it glow in the dark or when calls are received.
Leaving aside the debate of whether it is right for kids of this age to have their own handsets and what level of control parents should have over their calling, the Firefly is an exemplary demonstration of how to cater to the needs of a very specific market.
Firefly Mobile has not only focused on the design of the handset, but on the wider user experience. It has worked closely with carriers to develop attractive calling plans. Rogers, for instance, is offering the handset free of charge when added to a family calling plan, enabling parents to manage their kids’ bill on the same account. The operator will also provide a free upgrade to an ‘adult’ handset once the child outgrows the Firefly.
Firefly also operates as a ‘lite’ MVNO, offering the device through its own channels and selling branded airtime on a pre-pay basis. There are a range of accessories, from luminescent skins to backpack clips, all designed to fit the Firefly experience.
The device was envisioned by Don Deubler, now President of the company, who saw a need for a specific handset to meet the requirements of his girlfriend’s pre-teen daughter. The management team also includes some extremely well respected names from the industry. Robin Abrams, best known for her tenure as CEO of Palm a few years ago, is CEO, while veterans of Motorola, Apple, Siemens and Pixo fill the other key roles.
This is a case study example of how to target a niche segment with a well thought-out user experience.