The cell phone revolution is about to reach 8 year olds.
In a development likely to send shivers down the spines of many a parent, Mattel Inc. is looking to market fully functional cell phones, not the toy-like playthings some companies sell.
The $80 Nokia 6015 phone, due out in September, is customized and distributed by Single Touch Interactive, a Carlsbad company that licensed Mattel's My Scene brand, a doll collection aimed at 8- to 12-year-old girls a demographic a little older than Barbie's. It comes with 30 prepaid minutes and three interchangeable faceplates, screen savers and ring-tones that all are based on My Scene characters, designs and music.
"We wanted it to be something girls would aspire to. And we wanted to target this to kids old enough to be responsible with a phone. It's not a toy. Kids want real electronics," said Patty Masai, senior manager of interactive games at El Segundo-based Mattel.
With about 80 percent of adults in the U.S. using cell phones, and the teen market already penetrated, pre-teens present the last frontier of potential users, making fertile ground for partnerships between handset makers, children's toy and media brands and wireless providers.
The models have parental controls to address concerns about kids running up the bills or getting calls from strangers. And Mattel has a pre-pay system where parents can log onto a Web site and add minutes as a reward for good behavior or completing chores or homework.
At least one consumer advocacy group isn't thrilled about the trend, which is being marketed as a way for parents to keep track of their kids.
"This is a corporation using a fear-based pitched to get into parents and the brands to entice kids," said Doug Heller, a spokesman for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.
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