A mobile phone, shaped like a small teddy bear and designed to make it easy for parents to stay in touch with young children, was launched today amid a health row.
The phone, aimed at 4 to 10 year-olds, has no screen and only four buttons that can be pre-programmed by parents. These include an emergency ‘SOS’ button that the child can press when in distress which automatically phones one parent’s mobile.
But critics claim that the phone is a health hazard for young children, citing Sir William Stewart, chairman of the Health Protection Agency, who advised parents earlier this year to discourage the use of mobile phones by children under eight as a precaution against potential health risks.
The Mobile Operators Association has also supported this position.
Paul Liesching, MD of maker Teddyfone, rejects such criticism, saying that the rate at which the body absorbs energy from the handset is too low to do any harm. The Teddyfone has a specific absorption rate, is 0.16w/kg - close to the lowest available. Most mobiles have SAR values of 0.4 to 0.7w/kg.
He also says that research indicates that 25 per cent of seven to 10-year-olds already own mobiles. He believes that it would be preferable if parents gave their children the Teddyfone because it stops them from being able to receive malicious text messages as it has no screen.
John Carr, technology advisor to children’s charity NCH, said: “I feel like King Canute. It’s inevitable really. Parents will want to buy this whether it really serves its purpose or not. I think kids in the older bracket will think it's naff, but maybe it's useful for the younger ones – the problem is they shouldn’t really be out of the sight of their parents anyway.”
“On the health front the industry is against mobiles being sold to children and this comes very close to selling to children, but it is not a normal phone so they won’t be using it much so the health risks may be minimal. The scientific community is divided.”
The makers point out that it also includes the innovation of a child monitor option that allows concerned parents to listen in to what is happening around their child, and the option of a child locator service that sends parents a map of where their son or daughter is, on request, for 50p.
The handset and two years' line rental are free. Calls are charged at
But launching such a phone appears to be something of a high risk venture. Last year British firm Communi8 lost about £500,000 after launching Mymo, a mobile for under-eights. It withdrew the product in light of health warnings.
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