It's that time again! At the beginning of the month, our kids headed out the door for another 10 months (maybe 8 months if they're older and headed to college or university) and they are probably begging you for the latest gadget to show off to their friends. Before you head out and buy the latest "Super Phone" for your child, let me just wrangle you in for a minute and provide you some insight I've gleaned from 10+ years of smartphone usage.
The iPhone Works.
There, I said it! If you read my previous two posts on Mac OS X, you'll know that I'm not the biggest Apple fan in the world, but I am definitely a fan of the iPhone. I've used my fair share of Android, Blackberry, Nokia and Windows Phone handsets in the past to know that the iPhone simply works. The key to success for the iPhone is that it is a closed system, meaning that Apple sets goals for their mobile devices and sticks to those goals. Each major version of their mobile operating system, or "iOS" for short, comes with new features galore -- but it rarely removes a feature you already had, which means you can rely on your device working as you expect it to between major version upgrades.
Compare that statement with any Blackberry or Android handset you've ever owned and you'll realize that constant change is detrimental to you getting things done in a timely manner. If your mobile operating system changes frequently -- even as minor as the placement of a system setting in a menu -- you'll spend an enormous amount of time altering your workflow to get used to this change.
I'm off track -- I know -- but you'll want to read this next bit.
You don't need an iPhone 4S (or the new iPhone 5 for that matter).
I'm currently using the "older" iPhone 4. If you can find one, go buy one for your child. Heck, buy him or her an iPhone 3GS. They are both very capable phones and will continue to be capable for quite some time to come. Sure, the iPhone 4S has that whiz-bang new feature called "Siri", but in all honesty it doesn't work very well. Android has a better voice-command feature in the form of "Google Now", but it's really just a nice-to-have feature, not a must-have. When it comes to getting real value out of a smartphone, voice command support shouldn't be the only feature at the top of the list of your needs. The older iPhones still have "Voice Control" built in, and it works well.
The iPhone will keep you and your kids connected.
Sign up for Apple's iCloud service and keep track of your kids whereabouts whenever they have their phone with them. Trust me; they will keep their phone on-hand at almost all times. You know this is true just by walking down the street and watching for anyone using a smartphone. We're all using one now; including most pre-teens and adolescents.
Not only that, but the various cloud services available on your desktop, such as Dropbox, are also available on most smartphones, including the iPhone. Your kids can sync their schoolwork to their phone and desktop and never leave an essay at home again.
Don't feel bad if you can't afford an expensive smartphone or a data plan to go with one.
Children adapt, and even an older iPhone 3G will net them tonnes of usage and keep you connected with them. Data plans are a dime a dozen, but so are free WiFi spots. You don't need to break the bank on an expensive ($50/month CDN and up!) data plan for every phone your family runs. Set everyone in your family up with a data-sharing plan, or don't use a data plan at all. Disable 3G/4G data usage on the phone and let your kids hunt down WiFi whenever they need to access the internet. You can also use an iPod Touch in some cases, since it can access WiFi and receive texts.
Any smartphone will do.
Don't get me wrong; any smartphone will keep you in close contact with your children, and there are many phones to choose from, but take it from me: once you've used an iPhone for a while you'll compare all other smartphones to it. It simply works.