This tween toy is a little twisted

Given that the vast majority of grown-ups who might need one are already surgically attached to their cell phones, where are the device makers and wireless service providers going to turn for future growth?

All you parents of young children need to gather round for this one. We’re talking about the “tween” market, those youngsters aged eight through 12…. Yes, really.

“The tween market is currently under-penetrated compared to the overall population,” writes Yankee Group analyst Marina Amoroso in a recent report intended to help vendors fix this, um, problem. “Despite a number of important challenges, it represents one of the key growth opportunities for the wireless industry.”

Yes, I was already aware that a teenager without a cell phone is like, duh. I’ve seen the commercials for the kiddie phones. Yet this father of three four-year-olds was simply unprepared to grasp the idea that my little tykes might be packing their own cell phones in only a few years, before they can reliably pack their own lunches. Silly me.

According to Amoroso’s report, 27 per cent of tweens are already gobbling up those minutes on Mom and Dad’s dime, with that number expected to double by 2010. And while eight-year-olds naturally make up the smallest slice of the tween market segment, their numbers are still astonishingly measurable, as in almost one out of every 10 today.

Fueling the trend is a combination of mass insanity and family-share plans that make adding your eight-year-old a relatively painless US$10-a-month decision, provided you don’t have triplets.

Yet obstacles do remain that are preventing vendors from making deeper inroads into the Little League set, according to Amoroso. Parental controls on some models are not robust or easy enough to use, although Web-based versions are addressing those weaknesses. And the phones themselves just aren’t being built to suit the intended audience.

“What we expect is that they’re finally going to recognize that an eight-year-old’s mindset and aspirational age are completely different to that of a 10-year-old,” Amoroso says. “And what they think is cool or cute is completely different, as well.”

Unless I’m not following along here, this means your eight-year-old will require an upgrade when she hits 10. Notice I said yours, not mine.

QuickLink: 063567

My cell phone is almost never on.

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