Today’s children are growing up with tablets, smartphones and laptops all around them, many learning to type before they can write. If they’re not your target market now, they will be one day soon and the chances are that they’ll already be familiar with a number of brands and devices.
As the industry moves towards more intuitive controls, including touch and voice control, it physically becomes easier for children to use gadgets at an earlier age.
Tablets in particular, which combine large screens with touch controls, appear to be popular with the under-tens (as well as the over-tens, over-18s, 30-somethings and over-60s...).
Research from toy brand LeapFrog conducted earlier this year showed that UK children aged ten and under spend almost an hour (58 minutes) a day using technology-based products at home.
The survey of 2,000 parents also revealed that almost two thirds (63 per cent) of children now own a camera, gaming or mobile device, with six per cent of those owning a personal tablet such as an iPad. Seventy per cent of children regularly play with their parents’ laptop or computer and more than a sixth (16 per cent) own their own computer.
Children see their parents interacting with technology every day, and so in the same way that a young child might want to push a pram like mum and dad, they often want to use their parents’ gadgets too. None of this has escaped the toy manufacturers, and there are a number of child-focused gadgets available, such as LeapFrog’s LeapPad2, VTech’s InnoTab 2 and InspirationWorks’ Kurio.
They claim a number of benefits over mainstream tablets – they are built to withstand falls and come with child-specific apps. They’re generally cheaper than a high-end tablet or laptop and some have featured in the Christmas bestseller lists.
They also claim to be safer – either not allowing or only permitting limited access to the internet.
The LeapFrog research into children’s gadget behaviour revealed that over a third (38 per cent) of parents worry that gadgets – from tablets to Kindles – are not age appropriate and that their children will access inappropriate content.
It’s true that merely browsing YouTube for nursery rhymes can quickly (and often surprisingly), lead to linked videos that are not nearly so child friendly. Older children might easily end up in corners of the internet that they shouldn’t venture into.
But there are ways to protect children. First and foremost has to be simply through parental monitoring. Robert Dekker, senior marketing manager EMEA and Australasia at LeapFrog, comments: “Online safety is still a common concern and so it’s really important to ensure that any screen time is monitored closely.”
It’s also possible to use devices such as Cyberoam’s NetGenie to set up parental controls at the router level, so you can protect children from web content without having to install anything on the devices themselves. Cyberoam’s Pranav Parikh says: “It provides them with a safe and secured experience.”
LEARNING TO SHARE
Child-specific gadgets don’t appeal to everyone. Many families prefer to share devices like the iPad, or opt for low-cost Android devices to share among a few children – either way it should be good news if you sell tablets and other mobile products.
HMV’s marketing director Mark Hodgkinson agrees: “We don’t stock anything specifically targeted at kids, but we do see that alongside iPads, there’s a big opportunity in areas like lower-end tablets.
“Increasingly in the family environment, there’s more competition for portable entertainment devices and trying to share them around means that there is a growing market those slightly lower priced devices that are for the family as much as anything.”
So what’s next for gadget-obsessed kids? Katie Roberts, UK marketing manager for InspirationWorks says the sky’s the limit. “Parents are becoming much more comfortable with their children owning technology products, so wherever the adult market goes, the child equivalent won’t be far behind.”
We also canvassed a number of parents to find out what technology is being used in their day-to-day lives. Click through to Child's play: A look at the tech kids really use to read their thoughts.
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