Japan might not be the only country with phones designed specifically for children and the elderly, but it’s definitely the most feature-rich. What’s interesting is how these handsets are being adapted in different ways.
Softbank’s Mimamori phone (mimamori means “watch over”) is about as basic as a phone could be; It has one button and a screen to it can receive texts only, features, the capability to call up to three preset numbers and receive from twenty, and a pull-string alarm that sends your coordinates to a designated phone when activated.
However, instead of focusing solely on the safety-minded market, Softbank started getting creative to get these handsets out into the world. Their Ginza store gives them to waiting customers so they can wander away from the store and shop in the neighborhood until their number comes up.
It also turns out that Softbank’s Mimamori handsets are really popular with couples. This year the carrier began offering the handsets for free on a two-year service contract for only $6 a month, which is practically nothing considering how high phone bills can get here.
Everyone already has a phone of course, but in Japan it matters which carrier you’re on and there aren’t any “free minutes” to use up. You can easily pay around 30 cents per minute calling a phone on docomo from a Softbank handset. With Mimamori, if you’re on Softbank and your girlfriend is on docomo you can just give her a Mimamori phone on your plan that will enable free calls 24/7.
Oh….and for a bit more you can stalk her too!
By adding Ichi Navi capability for another $2.50 per month you make it possible to activate the GPS on demand through an app on your phone and see exactly where the handset is. Great for keeping track of grandma, kids going to school, ex-lovers, cheating spouses, and mortal enemies.
In a sense, Softbank is selling networked GPS tracking units for the low-low price of $8 a month, which is a crazy deal and makes them all the more useful for creative solutions such as this car tracking setup.
In fact, the staff at Softbank even recommended the handsets to me if I have an expensive bicycle. Literally two weeks later someone stole my motorbike and I wished that I had a Mimamori in there. Good enough quality to be useful, and cheap enough to be disposable.
While the popularity of these phones is mostly built on high user fees from the carriers, the other features make them pretty interesting to people seeking to create new services and solutions. Even just on a small business level, giving these to staff for internal communications can save thousands of dollars per year.