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Disney Mobile To Add ‘Family’ Features

Start-up MVNO Disney Mobile plans to add to its family-friendly services in the coming months and continues to negotiate for new retail locations where mothers shop, said George Grobar, Disney Mobile’s senior VP/GM.

In the summer, Disney will offer a location scout feature that lets handsets display nearby points of interest. In August or later, Disney will launch a photo-sharing application that enables one-click uploads of pictures taken by a Disney camera phone to a Disney photo-sharing site. Each family member will get a page, but there will also be a shared page. Parents will control the ability of a child to share photos outside the family.

Later in the year or early next, Disney will offer an online family calendar that parents will change via PC and will include automatic pushed alerts to phones. Around the same time, the company will launch a web site from which users can download graphics-rich games and other content to a PC for sideloading to a Disney phone. Such content would be slow to download over the air because Disney makes use of CDMA 1x phones that lack high-speed EV-DO data connections. The price of EV-DO technology must come down to a point at which Disney could offer it in a $99 phone, Grobar explained.

One recent service addition was The Kid Starter plan launched last November as the lowest-price option for a kid’s phone on an individual plan. Disney’s individual plans are intended for parents who want to give a child a Disney phone but whose own phone is locked into another carrier’s contract. The new individual plan costs $24.99/month for 200 minutes.

Under individual plans, parents can use a broadband-connected PC to monitor and control their kids’ cellphone usage and track their kids’ locations. Under family plans, parents can also use their own Disney handset to access most of these service features.

In the summer, one control feature previously accessible only through Disney’s Web site will become available through parents’ handsets. That feature, called Call Control, makes it possible for parents to choose the days of the week and times of day that their child can make calls. It also restricts incoming and outgoing calls to selected numbers.

Another control feature, introduced at Disney Mobile’ launch, lets parents set monthly spending limits on text and picture messaging, voice calls and downloadable content. That feature has always been available both through the Web site and though a parent’s Disney handset. The parent also receives alerts when a voice and text or picture messaging limit has been reached. The parent can allow usage to continue, increase the limit, or suspend most phone functionality.

Disney soft-launched its service in late May 2006, rolled it out nationally in August and made its holiday target, he said.

Currently, phones and service are sold through the Web, through a master agent to about 1,000 independent wireless retailers, through kiosks in Dinseyland and Disney World and through 13 independently owned kiosks that will expand to 30 in the summer, Grobar said. Disney is “conversing with everyone” to put its phones in “places where moms are,” he added.

When the company unveiled its service in early 2006, it planned dual-sided kiosks with Disney Mobile phones and service on one side and the phones and MVNO service of Mobile ESPN on the other. Since then, however, ESPN dropped out of the MVNO business, but its Mobile ESPN services will be available on Verizon Wireless phones that download a Mobile ESPN application.