Now, even toddlers can text safely
TODDLER-SAFE texting has arrived. Spurred by burgeoning demand for kid-styled tablets, LeapFrog Enterprises and VTech Holdings revamped their tyke-targeted devices to add features that let three-year-olds send short messages to grandma and even watch online videos without stumbling across websites that kids should not see.
"Exposing our children to the Internet at an early age is incredibly valuable, but how do you do it safely?" Mr John Barbour, chief executive officer of LeapFrog, said in an interview.
By tackling parents' fears about their kids going online, these toymakers are seeking to extend their dominance in a niche category of the booming tablet market that they created two years ago after releasing the first versions of LeapFrog's LeapPad and VTech's InnoTab.
With the added Web features in the recently released US$150 (S$190) LeapPad Ultra and US$100 InnoTab 3S, they are also presenting more of an alternative to devices from Amazon.com, Samsung Electronics and Apple in the larger market for tablets that is projected by researcher IDC to increase 34 per cent to 67 million units this year.
LeapFrog and VTech faced little competition early on for tablets made specifically for children - as opposed to parents handing over an iPad to their kids.
The LeapPad became a runaway hit, and its success helped turn around the firm's fortunes, with its shares more than doubling in price since the first version went on sale in July 2011. VTech's InnoTab has become its best-selling product.
LeapFrog executives thought long and hard about adding adult features to the LeapPad because while kids are begging to get online, parents feel the need to hover over them, said Ms Jill Walker, vice-president of multimedia learning. VTech also spent months designing a tablet kids could use on their own.
Both firms curated the online experience, limiting access to such sites as PBS.org. LeapFrog makes all these decisions through its LeapSearch browser, while VTech uses filters and also lets parents add or block content.
Another LeapFrog innovation is its texting app, Pet Chat. Users are restricted to sending messages to each other from a pre-determined list of phrases, such as "I'm being silly". Hong Kong-based VTech has Kid Connect, which lets tykes text another InnoTab or parent-approved smartphone.