Highland Beach resident Burt Firtel says his own experience with forgetting his phone in his car was the inspiration for development of the Don’t Forget app. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Rich Pollack
Like many people his age, Burt Firtel didn’t always harness the technology he held in his hand.
In fact, he’ll tell you that about the only time he looked at apps on his cellphone was when he went to remove them.
Today at the age of 83, Firtel may be one of the nation’s oldest inventors of a cellphone app, one that not only saves people unnecessary steps but also one that can save lives.
Firtel is the creator of the Don’t Forget app, a verbal warning system that reminds people getting out of a car to remember to take their phone, their groceries or even the baby in the back seat, before they get too far.
“This app can save users time, frustration and even tragedy by verbally reminding drivers to grab stuff that can escape their mental checklist,” he says, explaining that the app can be customized to provide specific instructions. “From babies and dogs to your cellphone, glasses and wallet, Don’t Forget’s customized verbal alert can easily be edited as needed and it can be a lifesaver.”
Firtel, of Highland Beach, is perhaps an unlikely app developer, having little background in product development and even less in harnessing technology.
If necessity is the mother of invention, then in Firtel’s case, convenience would take a close second.
At least two or three times a week, Firtel says, he would step out of his car, catch the elevator to his fourth-floor apartment, prepare for bed or a task and then search for his cellphone. It was then he remembered that he had left it in the car.
“You have to go down to get the phone, then back up,” he says. “I just wondered, ‘Why doesn’t somebody invent something that tells you that you left something in the car?’”
He turned out to be that someone.
Early in the pandemic, when he put his golf game on hold, Firtel went to work and found nothing on the market that was quite what he envisioned. Working with patent attorneys and engineers, he developed a device that could be installed in a car or by the entrance to a home and did exactly what he had in mind.
When he consulted his grandsons, JD and Max, they reminded him that an app would probably be a better way to go, since everybody has a cellphone these days.
Considering that option, Firtel met with a software engineer and the Don’t Forget app was created. The app, which connects to cellphones through Bluetooth, comes loaded with five common items, but gives users the option to delete any of them or add others important to them.
In addition to the app, Firtel has patents pending on a device that can plug into a port under the dashboard and another that uses a motion detector in the home to remind users to take what they need.
To market the app — which costs $5.95 a month — to a national audience, Firtel and his two tech-savvy grandchildren traveled to the Las Vegas area in January and set up a booth at CES, formerly the Consumer Electronics Show, which is billed as “the most influential tech event in the world.”
Longtime show watchers speculated that Firtel — likely the sole octogenarian exhibitor this year — may have been the oldest vendor in the show’s 50-plus-year history.
His lack of technical acumen worked to his advantage in developing his app.
“My not-so-savvy tech deficits actually came in handy — they kept me pushing to ensure Don’t Forget was easy for anyone, any age to quickly download, customize and use as it is,” he says.
Firtel invested his own money in development of the app and says he absolutely would do it again.
“My invention didn’t come to me because I’m a tech genius,” he says. “I just asked the question after always leaving my phone in the car. It’s a practical invention.”
Firtel is the author of a golf novel, The Legend of the Cap, which he hopes will be part of his legacy to his grandchildren, along with the app.
“Age doesn’t matter when it comes to ideas,” he says. “I hope other seniors with an idea and a spark remember that this time is called our golden years for a reason.”
For more information about the Don’t Forget app, visit dfdontforget.com.