Geekery / History / Mentalhealth / Toolbox

Technology, White Elephants and hidden Gems

I have used mobile phones to help the girls and I face challenges for quite a number of years now.

It helps us know what is going on as they bounce around homes of family and friends during school holidays. 

From a young age it has allowed them to stay in touch with Mum while visiting or going out on trips with Dad.

It has come in handy at showground events and to coordinate pick ups and drop off’s last minute changes,  along with screaming for help when dealing with bullies and family members ignoring IVO’s. 

Technology has changed in many various ways over the years with CDMA being decommissioned, and the upcoming fairwell to 2G networks around the world. I have watched the development and roll out of 3G and 4G technologies ,seeing children’s technology ebb and flow. we have used Telstra’s TicTalk (they are not actually indestructible but they came close.) We have used Nokia, Samsung, Alcatel, name brand, no brand watches, ID badges, dog tags (literally).

Technology is beginning to mature but it is currently stuttering and choking.

Currently the vast majority of affordable dedicated tracking devices are running on 2G networks which will leave a desert of options once the network is switched off. Unfortunately companies are currently trying to offload them for a dime a dozen. Others are being less scrupulous and are currently charging premium price for products which won’t work beyond a year.

The alternative is Bluetooth devices with a very limited range. The only situation in which bluetooth works is when taking an infant (preschooler or younger) to a large crowded event or shopping center and they won’t get to far out of range. Bluetooth devices help by letting you know with an alarm the moment they are too far from you and you set the range. 

They will not let you know where a kidnapper has taken your child or where a non custodial parent has taken a child in cases of parental abduction. 

Those bluetooth devices which claim to have such a range are dependent on a large number of service subscribers being in the area of the child to detect the Bluetooth device. If all or even most parents of young children in any given region do not have the app installed you will not receive location information, and if the child is not in a populated area you most certainly will not receive location information because the device is not capable of broadcasting beyond about 10 meters. For bluetooth services it is users mobile phones who act as cell phone towers only with a much reduced range.

Over the years I have spent thousands quite literally on mobile technology. I have had to set up my own private gateway’s, customise settings and customise code. You are lucky the sector has matured it is no longer necessary to spend top dollar buying premium products to access services which are not yet at a level of development to be exactly what you need.

My personal recommendations:

Dogs tags – literally go to a locksmith and purchase a dog tag have the child’s name engraved on one side and your phone number engraved on the other. These are to use at shopping centers they are not easily updated but they cost less than $10 each and can be obtained in minutes. They dont need batteries and only need to be updated if your phone number changes. Pin them to the childs shirt with a safety pin when going to the show, travelling through airports trips to the zoo or local shopping center.

Linable For US$10 you can have a battery powered bluetooth tracker with a battery life of about a year. Good value if you convince every other parent in the area to jump on board. Primarily this is the sort of device to use in crowded places with those particularly young ones who are prone to wandering off and being found in a stores stock room gazing at stacks of boxes.

When it comes to tracking watches there are a few issues to watch out for. 

3G devices are currently being developed. They are not guarenteed. The HereO, the dokiwatch, we’re crowdfunded they are watches you can throw a sim in in order to have some flexibility with cost and plan. The watches themselves are not cheap costing about US$200 each and delivery of both is delayed. Thinking a 10yo will happily wear this style of watch is incredibly optimistic.  The range of use you will get out of it is perhaps from the age of 5 years through til 10

2G watches available everywhere will not work by 2017 in Australia. 

Tictoctrack and other watches which come with a dedicated service are comparible in price to the Dokiwatch and HereO. However you are locked into their network service and subscription fees with excess updates and sms charged at a premium rate. There are very few such services available in Australia. Do remain aware that some of these devices may in fact operate on the 2G Network.
A simple phone for primary school aged kids is the Ownfone while it does operate on the 2G Network it runs on Vodaphone and I haven’t been able to ascertain how long their network will be available. All I do know is their coverage in regional areas isn’t such that it falls within consideration.

The most flexible versatile option I ended up resorting to as devices can be upgraded as they grow is simply a smart phone and the Life360 app. It provides us with private group chat, shared lists for chores or shopping, I can designate areas to be alerted as the girls leave and enter that I am told when they arrive at school and again as they leave to head back home.

I have labelled every border crossing and train station on the vline to receive alerts which conveniently also keeps the high way well covered. When the girls go travelling I know where they are and if they are delayed.with the geofencing I can keep the toll on their battery at a minimum while receiving the relevant information I need.
As a premium subscriber for US $49 a year I can see their travel history their battery level and it says some interesting things about travel speed (some bus drivers may be in trouble) so worse case scenario if they go flat we can still know which way they were heading.

This year following a Samsung S4 screen being smashed and a Samsung S3 being lost, I took a fresh look at the phone market and available models and brands. 

I decided to take a look at these Chinese companies who are giving the big companies a run for their money.  

I purchased an Elephone P8000 for only US$116 its spec is spot on but reviews were less than perfect. However having a play around with it since it arrived and switching its keyboard to SwiftKey keyboard it is holding its own seriously considering it my next move when my S5 carks it.

For the 2 most notorious with mobile phones I have ordered two Doogee X5 at AUD $117 for both even if they smash them every 6 months its still cheaper than them smashing their S4 before I have even finished paying for it.

I have found smart phones win, because playing Ingress or Pokémon Go is the best incentive on earth for them to keep their phone battery and power bank charged and with them where ever they go.

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