AT&T’s FiLIP smartwatch isn’t that smart but it’s certainly connected

AT&T(s t) is moving beyond merely selling wearable tech in its stores to actually powering such wearable devices on its cellular network. This week Ma Bell said it would be the exclusive provider of a new connected smartwatch called FiLIP.

The typical gadget geek is not going to be too impressed with FiLIP – it doesn’t track steps or display email and SMS alerts on its plus-sized screen – but that’s because this watch isn’t targeted at you or I. It’s meant to be worn by children, and the three applications the watch does support are designed entirely with parents in mind.

The watch is basically a phone that connects directly to AT&T’s GSM networks, but it’s limited to calling and texting five pre-programmed numbers. It also has a powerful locator, using a combination of GPS, cellular location and Wi-Fi triangulation to track a child’s location. Parents can pinpoint their tyke on a map from a smartphone app and set up geo-fences called Safe Zones, which trigger alerts whenever the child enters or leaves a specific area. Finally, it has emergency button, which when pressed sends out a location beacon and immediately attempts to call the child’s parents. Failing that it will call emergency services. (Oh, and it also tells time).

Though the features on the watch are limited, it’s certainly one of the most connected watches on the market – sporting GSM, GPS and Wi-Fi radios – making it right up AT&T’s alley. As a carrier, AT&T is primarily in the business of selling connectivity, and connectivity is what powers all of the core functions of FiLIP.

Like all carriers, AT&T is gradually developing its internet of things strategy, venturing in the connected home and the connected car – AT&T SVP of emerging devices Chris Penrose will be on hand at GigaOM’s Mobilize conference next week to discuss that strategy in detail. But as Ma Bell delves into the wearables market, its role isn’t exactly clear. It views most wearable gadgets such as the Galaxy Gear smart watch and fitness trackers as peripherals that rely on its smartphones for their connections to the internet, but little else. In the case of the FiLIP, however, AT&T is becoming the service provider, selling the device and powering the applications that run over it.

AT&T hasn’t yet revealed any plan pricing for the FiLIP, but I’m very curious to see how it plans to charge for it. On one hand, it can’t likely attach a standard phone plan to the gadget because it’s limited to only a few numbers, and while FiLIP does use a data connection to transmit its location coordinates it doesn’t make use of any other apps requiring a data plan. On the other hand, parents are probably less likely to look at the device’s communications limitations and focus on the key service it does provide: peace of mind.