x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Parents buying tablets such as LeapPad2 for their children

Technology is increasingly becoming a part of children's upbringing as companies develop Wi-Fi devices and apps designed to help them learn and tap into a growing market.

A woman and child look at tablets in Chicago. Tim Boyle / Bloomberg News
A woman and child look at tablets in Chicago. Tim Boyle / Bloomberg News

Products from well-known brands such as Lego and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were among the major winners during the 2013 Toy of the Year Awards.

But only one product won the inaugural "people's choice" award for best toy: LeapPad2, a tablet for children that costs US$100 (Dh367).

The victory for LeapFrog Enterprises, a company from California that calls itself a leader in "educational entertainment" for children, underscores the major strides technology has made within the toy sector. Last year, the company's tablets and software dominated three out of the top five toys that raked in the most money within the United States, according to market research from NPD Group. While overall revenues for the toy industry in the United States declined slightly compared with 2011, from $16.6 billion down to $16.5bn last year, a larger share of this money shifted to pricier products.

"We're seeing consumers willing to trade up to more expensive toys," says Ross Crupnick, the senior vice president of industry analysis at NPD Group.

In the UAE, some electronics retailers have found that more parents are buying for their children devices originally designed with teens and adults in mind, including tablets, smartphones and touchscreen MP3 players. Others have not seen an upturn in such sales yet, although they note tech companies are increasingly targeting younger users.

"Manufacturers are looking at the space via their ecosystems, whether this be through dedicated hardware or applications that aim to capture this audience," says Omar Kassim, the founder of JadoPado, an online tech retailer in the UAE.

"Parents tend to be less price-sensitive when buying for their younger children and have a tendency to generally want more for their children," he adds.

Here are just some of the gadgets that manufacturers are gearing at little ones today:

Infant Monitors

A growing number of security systems now connect to smartphones, allowing concerned homeowners to view a live video feed of their premises regardless of where they travel.

Withings, which creates smart products and apps for the wellness sector, applies a similar concept to technology for parents who want to watch their infants. The company's Smart Baby Monitor, which costs $250, is a small device that can be set near a child while they are sleeping or being cared for by a nanny or babysitter. It acts a digital gateway so a parent can see, hear and speak to their little ones. It also doubles as a night light and music player, to help lull a baby to sleep.

Other manufacturers, including Samsung, have released security monitors in recent years that are aimed, at least in part, at keeping an eye on infants and children.

Overall, though, these kinds of devices remain a small segment within the home security systems market, which generated more than $4bn last year in the US, up from $3.5bn in 2008, according to data from the Consumer Electronics Association.

Tablets for Tots and Pre-Teens

With a built-in camera, music player and collection of interactive ebooks, Polaroid's PTAB750 looks and feels like a tablet. But this device is aimed squarely at children. The $150 durable slate includes some parent-friendly features, such as controls to enable safe online browsing, a dedicated app store for downloading child-specific content and large buttons designed for more rugged use from little fingers.

As unique as this tablet may seem, it is just one of many these days being pitched at youngsters.

On March 6, Amplify Education unveiled a tablet designed specifically for students in kindergarten through to grade 12 in the US. The Wi-Fi enabled computer, which will cost almost $300 when wrapped with a two-year subscription that runs to $99 annually, is being pushed for purchase by school districts and comes preloaded with instructional tools to help teachers deliver content to students.

LeapFrog has among the biggest collection of tablets for tots and pre-teens. It offers a couple of models for those as young as three, plus another two portable "learning game systems" for four to nine-year-olds.

The company also sells a pen-like system that helps children learn how to read, along with a version for one-year-olds - not to mention a growing group of apps and other high-tech toys that advocate "learning through play".

All told, about one in seven children between the ages of five and 15 now use a tablet at home in the United Kingdom, a threefold increase from 2011, according to a report from Ofcom, the country's communications regulator. In the US, 20 per cent of tablet-owning parents with children who are six or younger have loaned a slate to their little ones, according to a survey conducted last year by Forrester Research.

It seems the line between work and play is becoming evermore smudged.