Charlie Brown and wife Rachael are among thousands of Australian parents trying to navigate parenthood in the digital age.
Their three children are among the fifty percent of kids aged six to 13 who have access to a smartphone making online safety a constant concern.
“Many of us grew up with the Walkman or the iPod but today if you want music or a podcast then you need to listen on a smart phone,” said Mr Brown.
“With smartphones, you get the all-you-can eat deal when that’s not really what everyone wants.”
To address the problem for their children, Charlie and Rachael designed g-mee – a smart device that delivers all the things that users want in a smart device and takes out the things they don’t.
“My wife Rachael had the idea to create a smart device suitable for users of any age and any digital know-how,” said Mr Brown.
“We wanted to create a device where you can pick and choose and you can still do a range of tasks but also does it safely because not everyone in the community should be given a camera and not everyone on the community should be given unfettered access to every kind of app that’s out there on the internet.
Unlike most new technology, G-mee isn’t more complex and has no new features – in fact, it has less.
With no camera, a plastic screen ideal for kids and a pre-installed app lock, the G-mee device is designed to help parents control what apps their children can access and when.
“The G-mee strikes a balance between users getting all the best of smart tech in one personalised content player, and having the ability to limit exposure to unwanted or unsuitable content,” he explains.
“They might listen to a podcast while they have some down time in their room or listen to relaxing music while they go to sleep and none of this stuff actually involves looking at a screen which is what a lot of parents hate about their kids using smartphones.”
Mr Brown’s kids have been using the device for six months and he says the results are surprising.
“They show each other their favourite music and they actually engage and have conversations about it. If we’d given them a tablet with unfettered access to streaming television that just wouldn’t happen,” he said.
“The other thing we’ve noticed is when they come home from school they go into their rooms and play more and read books or they just chill out and we didn’t enforce that they just started doing it on their own.
“We’ve given them the parameters and said, ‘from here, you can go an explore’ and they do”.
But G-mee is designed for adults too and Mr Brown says the device has helped him and his wife get away from their screens while still enjoying the benefits of technology.
The app lock feature can be activated at any time and used on any app downloaded to the device to block distractions caused by unwanted alerts, status updates and reminders.
“For me as an adult, I take my G-mee with me when I go running and I know I could turn off all my notifications on my phone when I go running but I don’t want to. I just want to leave my phone at home and I know that when I turn on my G-mee and put my ear phones in that’s symbolism that that’s now my time, that’s my time away from connectivity,” said Mr Brown.
Charlie and Rachel are excited to share the device with Australian audiences first and then they hope to take it to a global market.
“We want to give Australians the chance to use it first, see what they think, get feedback and then we’ll go from there.”