Breaking through the Children’s Gadget Market?

Apr 2, 2009 | Mobile & Web | Tech News

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My daughters are 9 and 4, respectively, and have never been into video games much, probably because of the lack of exposure and being girls. But Isabelle, my 9 y.o. daughter, does have a Nintendo DS hand held player, and do enjoy it from time to time, particularly on long drive. My four years old, Camillie, is not quite old enough for video games, nor have the dexterity to operate a game controller.

Which is why it was surprising when recently on a short drive, both my kids fought over my iPhone. I’ve downloaded a few super simple games for them, things such as a memory recall game for Camille, and more complex games like Tap Tap Revenge for Isabelle. And it’s just not me: a large number of our friends who are parents have noticed that the abandonment of Nintendo DS and Sony PSP in favor of the iPhone. My anecdotal data, while not statistically relevant, do span from age 4 to 13, and cover boys and girls. I believe this is not a fluke, but a real trend.

Besides the novelty factor, which can never be discounted, what is going on here? Here are my observations and hypotheses:

1. The touch interface is just more intuitive. Camille can hardly operates a thumbpad on a game controller, but readily can point and touch on screen icons. You may also remember the first time you used a mouse, and the difficulty of controlling a on-screen cursor with a mouse that’s over a foot away, on a different plane. We are not genetically programmed to operate a mouse. Whereas pointing and touching have been part of the human experiences for as long as we’ve existed as a species (and before that as simians). The UI just works better on the iPhone than a PSP or DS.

2. The freshness and availability of downloadable games: I don’t get many video games for Isabelle’s DS, and so there is definitely boredom for her to replay the game over and over. But even if you are buying a new game for your kid very often, it is still a chore to go to the store or buy online. And if you are a conscientious consumer, you are probably checking for game reviews, price shopping, etc., all of which are barriers to entry that an AppStore doesn’t have.

3. iPhones are always with you. Unlike a handheld game console, which you may not carry with you everywhere, an iPhone is always at hand. If you are bored for just five minutes, you can still play the game. This is helped by the kind of games that tend to be popular on the iphone, the casual puzzle games genre.

And in a related category, We are also hearing from multiple sources that iPhone apps targeting for Parenting or Childhood Education are gaining significant momentum in the AppStore. This reinforces my perception of the suitability of the iPhone as a children-friendly device.



As a parent, I have seen many failed efforts at marketing electronics devices for children. Most of the time, it’s a simplified version of an adult gadget, dumbed down for the children market. I have always bemoaned the kind of trashy electronics that we receive as gifts, that we end up throwing away a couple months later. It makes no economic sense, given how wasteful it is monetarily, as well as the environmental impact of cheaply made plastic and electronics in our landfills. But with the iPhone, we are for the very first time, seeing a viable device that can be enjoyed by adults and children alike, is accessible to the youngest fingers, and also afford anyone with an idea to participate in the education and entertainment of the youngest members of society. I think this is a key milestone in the history of toys and gadgets for children.

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