Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Who is the Ideal Audience for a Tablet?

When reading a number of blogs I enjoy this morning, I noticed a press release that was making the rounds. The release in question was for a new tablet designed explicitly for children from Isabella Products, who has partnered with children’s publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

For a while now, I’ve kept a keen eye on whether tablets will ever expand to provide children’s only options. It’s been downright fascinating in recent months to follow the development of touch technology and how it relates to children. Toys have been working with touch screens for some time now, including Nintendo’s DS platform – a portable video game handheld designed primarily for children (though not exclusively).

Plenty of other toys have made the attempt as well. Children are generally very tactile. They learn through touching and doing and tablets offer just that level of interactivity. But, as anyone out there with a little one of their own knows, children are also mildly destructive. Handing over your new Galaxy Tab or Droid 2 for them to play with is not exactly the safest or most affordable option.

But, they love the things. Recent stories in the New York Times have catalogued the addiction of some toddlers to iPhones and tablets while plenty of parents I know use the devices to substitute for a pacifier or favourite toy when in public. It works like a charm.

So, a child-oriented device like the Fable sounds like a wonderful idea. This particular device comes in three child friendly colors, allows photo sharing, gaming, drawing, and books your children already like to read.

And yet, after reading the small print, the Fable seems more like a toy than a true tablet for children. The device allows the download of new games and books, but only through the Vizitme.com portal – the Isabella based portal for applications and software they offer on various mobile devices.

On one hand, it allows parents to severely limit what their children have access to, but on the other hand, what if you want access to non-HMH published books or games produced for Android devices? The level of support needed by a device with a closed environment may not mean much to a child of 3 or 4, but what about when they get a little older? Will the device retain any value at that point? Let’s face it – children are incredibly tech savvy. They will know by the time they reach primary school that they are using a limiting piece of technology.

All that said, I’m one-hundred percent for devices designed specifically for children. Yes, some children are calm and careful enough to sit down with a Tab or iPad and use a colouring book application or read a Dr. Seuss book, but others would rather use it to hammer blocks into place. So, a sturdily designed, heavy duty tablet with plenty of parental controls and kid friendly interface is just what the doctor ordered. Now, we just need one that can scale with our children as they grow older – allowing them to use a device that challenges them as they become increasingly tech savvy. 

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