What’s the right age for a child to be given their first smartphone? It’s a common dilemma for parents and carers trying to balance their child’s excitement to access the wonders of the digital world with their own concerns about safety and screen time. For Lutfu Kitapci, managing director at Vodafone Smart Tech, it’s a question that’s been on his mind for some time. “How do we empower kids, but also give the parents reassurance and control?” he says. Kitapci’s approach to the question delivered a different answer: a smartwatch designed with both children and adults in mind that aims to deliver the functionality kids want, with the security and control that parents need.
“How do we allow people to connect to the things they love? Wearables play a very important role,” Kitapci explains. Working with his team at Vodafone Smart Tech, Kitapci led the development of Neo, a smart kids watch that combines function, style and fun. After carefully researching the market, Kitapci and his team knew they wanted to deliver a product that stood out – both in terms of design and features. And that made for some unique design choices.
First up is the shape of the watch itself. There are two watch straps – one normal, and one with the screen on a slight diagonal that improves the viewing angle for the child, reducing strain on the wrist to make it easier for kids to look at and control. Then there’s a front-facing camera that lets children capture their daily adventures. Why front-facing? As Kitapci explains, the aim is to empower the wearer to take photos of the world around them, not themselves. “We’re empowering kids to live their lives and take snapshots, and then share them on the app with their parents,” he says. Smart watches for children have been around for some time, but they have been plagued by poor hardware, dodgy software and security concerns. Vodafone’s approach, Kitapci explains, is different. “Elegance and thoughtfulness around how kids will interact with the watch are the two critical elements of our design principles.” The innovative design and technology powering Neo is the result of Vodafone conducting extensive research with both parents and children to create a watch designed with everyone in mind.
Vodafone’s smart kids’ watch Neo (£99) available now.
For kids, Neo provides a great balance of fun and safety without access to the internet or social media. On the fun side, Vodafone has collaborated with Disney to let kids personalise their watch by choosing their own sidekick from a huge selection of popular Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars characters – from Minnie Mouse or Elsa to Buzz Lightyear to Darth Vader, all the characters come to life at the touch of a button. The collaboration with Disney doesn’t stop there – each character also comes with a full theme takeover. Neo is also packed full of features which give children a feeling of independence while keeping parents in control at all times. They can make calls, send chats and emoji’s to a pre-approved list of close contacts, and also check the weather, set calendar updates and track their daily activity.
All of this is managed through the Vodafone Smart App, giving parents full control of their child’s digital experience and the ability to view the device’s location. And it’s here, in the app, that Neo hooks into a growing ecosystem of products and services. “How do we improve everyday living for consumers?” says Kitapci. “With the magic of smart tech.” For Vodafone, that magic is connectivity. The company already operates mobile and fixed networks in 21 countries and partners with mobile networks in 48 more. Worldwide it has over 300 million mobile customers, 27 million fixed broadband customers and 22 million TV customers. For the Neo, connectivity means GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and a smart SIM that can connect to networks in more than 100 countries. That last part is key. Building hardware that can hook into that connectivity expertise is central to Vodafone’s future. “Connectivity plays a key role across all our products,” Kitapci says. “It’s not just hardware design. It’s not just software. It’s also connectivity that brings all of them together.
“What does the future look like for connectivity?” says Kitapci. “And how can we solve them? Well, by bringing that thoughtful integrated hardware, software, and connectivity.” Neo is the second product to join the Designed and Connected by Vodafone range, which aims to build products on the company’s Internet of Things platform. The first product to launch in the range was Curve, a tiny GPS tracker that can be hooked onto a set of keys, a backpack or a pet. Like Neo, Curve leverages Vodafone’s connectivity expertise and Smart App, which lets you manage all your devices from one platform.
The Internet of Things has been around for more than a decade, but for people to really benefit from it, Kitapci argues, it needs its “iPhone moment”.
“There were a lot of smartphones around before,” he says. “But what really got that mass adoption was the iPhone.” Kitapci believes that focusing on simple, elegant hardware and software design could give smart tech the boost it needs. What’s come before has often only served a niche audience or failed to address a major consumer need, Kitapci argues. “The products that we build, and that we’re going to build, are going to be the best products in the world,” he says. “We want to ignite this category with a thoughtful customer experience, with integrated hardware, software and connectivity to move things beyond the tech savvy people and out to the masses.”
Curve and Neo are just the beginning. With decades of experience in connectivity, Vodafone believes that it is uniquely placed to reveal the true benefits of the IoT age. “We already have over 110 million connections – from cars to smart meters to homes,” says Kitapci. By designing a new range of innovative, thoughtful hardware and software to make the most of that connectivity, Vodafone is working to bring the benefits of IoT to everyone.
Find out more about the Neo and Vodafone’s plans for the future of smart tech by clicking here.