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Gabb phones ‘let kids be kids,’ company execs say at new Lehi headquarters opening


LEHI — Gracee Hannig just finished her freshman year at American Fork High School. She’s involved on campus and likes playing basketball and the piano. She hangs out with her younger brothers and goes on walks, and she loves Taylor Swift.

She’s a pretty normal 15-year-old, except for one thing — she chooses not to have an iPhone.

Instead, she uses a Gabb phone — an Android smartphone designed as a kid-friendly starter phone — and says it helps her feel more connected to people in real life.

“I don’t even have to worry about being tempted to go on social media and get addicted to that,” she said.

Her Gabb phone has taught her how to delay instant gratification and feel more in control of her time and relationships, she said.

Her choice isn’t surprising, given that her father works at Gabb, a Utah tech company dedicated to making safe, kid-friendly phones and smartwatches. Hannig was one of the kids who cut the ribbon at the opening of Gabb’s new Lehi headquarters Thursday.

Gabb has been making these devices since 2018. What makes them so kid-friendly, according to the company? No social media, no explicit music, no internet browsing and lots of flexible parental controls. Gabb phones allow for texting, making calls, listening to music and downloading approved apps.

“I can’t tell you the challenge it is when these social media companies and Big Tech are doing everything they can to addict our kids,” Gabb CEO Nate Randle said.

Gabb hopes to fill a gap in the tech industry by providing a safer transition for children from no phone to a full-blown smartphone. This is becoming increasingly important, as nearly half of children aged 8 to 12 have smartphones, and by age 18, 95% do.

Parents want to stay connected to their kids, but smartphones can introduce a lot of issues. Of kids ages 10-17, 42% have viewed online pornography. The average teenager will lose more than a year of their life to scrolling on social media from ages 13-18. Cyberbullying, online predators and mental health challenges are also huge issues.

“We want kids to have the childhood they deserve,” Gabb employee Brandon Jeppson said. The company also wants parents to sleep at night and pick fewer fights about screen time.

However, simply eliminating time-wasters like social media is only part of the solution.

Utah’s first lady Abby Cox speaks to guests, employees and their families during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Gabb Phones at their new headquarters in Lehi on Thursday.
Utah’s first lady Abby Cox speaks to guests, employees and their families during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Gabb Phones at their new headquarters in Lehi on Thursday. (Photo: Marielle Scott, Deseret News)

Utah first lady Abby Cox said the state needs strong, trusting communities if it wants kids to shut off the screens.

Trust in communities has eroded in the last few decades, Cox said. Today’s childhood is a far cry from the childhood she had growing up on a ranch 3 miles outside of Mount Pleasant.

She used to bale hay and ride her pink bike into town by herself. This was because her parents trusted the community, she said. Now, parents are putting kids in a bubble.

“We are not trusting each other anymore, and our kids are not having a place … where a community can support them,” Cox said. “We want to take away smartphones and social media. What are we replacing it with? We have to fill it with community.”

Having a Gabb phone has allowed Hannig to explore real-life interests and get involved in her community. Her phone allows her to join group chats for school clubs but doesn’t let her compare herself to classmates on social media.

When she feels down, instead of turning to her phone for comfort or distraction, she goes on walks, plays the piano or talks to her parents.

Some of Hannig’s friends have Gabb phones, too, which makes things easier, she said. But the phenomenon isn’t unique to Utah — 80% of Gabb’s customers are from outside the state.

Guests, employees and their families attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Gabb Phones at their new headquarters in Lehi on Thursday.
Guests, employees and their families attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Gabb Phones at their new headquarters in Lehi on Thursday. (Photo: Marielle Scott, Deseret News)

The company anticipates continued growth. Eventually, it hopes starter phones like the Gabb phone will become the new normal for kids and teenagers.

And while the phone isn’t designed for and marketed to adults, some adults have jumped on board, too. After a companywide weeklong digital detox this spring, some Gabb employees made the switch to the less-burdening smartphone.

No matter which phone a teenager chooses, Hannig says, the important thing is to “set boundaries with yourself and clear rules with your parents.”



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