Yes, This Is Happening: VTech Just Made a Tablet for Your 12-Month-Old
VTech is hoping to tap into one of the last unexplored tablet markets: Infants.
The Hong Kong-based toy maker is targeting its Inno Tab 2 Baby at children from 1 to 9 years of age, expanding beyond the regular Inno Tab’s 4-to-9 year age range.
“The reality is that [the technology’s] there, and babies as young as 12 months just have this natural propensity to want to do whatever their parents are doing,” said Laurie Honza, director of product development of VTech Electronics North America.
Aesthetically, the Inno Tab 2 Baby looks like others in the Inno Tab line. Its thick plastic and protective gel skin are meant to render the tablet indestructible enough for little hands that would just as quickly throw it from a high chair as play with it. The Baby features different onboard content as well, including three baby apps, a Noah’s Ark e-book, and built-in music (six playtime melodies and six sleepy-time melodies).
For older kids, there’s a rotating camera and video recorder, licensed games from Nickelodeon and Disney, an art studio app and an organizer for scheduling soccer practices and visits to grandma’s house.
VTech also provides custom-designed hardware to make the interface easier for tots. Beyond its physical toughness, the Baby comes with two styluses shaped like triangles rather than cylinders, that provide a thicker, more easily graspable shape for tiny fingers.
According to the “Handbook of Research on the Education of Young Children,” children are exposed to new technologies long before they ever enter a preschool classroom. But, as VTech targets the youngest tablet demographic ever, how young is too young for children to be introduced to tech?
It’s a hot topic of debate. The National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media, for example, released a joint statement last year discouraging parents from exposing children younger than 2 years old to screens.
However, Honza insists that interactivity is key, pointing to the Baby’s visual stimulation and how intrigued toddlers are by tapping the screen and watching what happens.
“If you hand over an iPad to a little one, you’ll see how easily engaged they are,” she said.
But it depends on how engaged.
“There is some research that looks at if you have mom, baby and media and there’s conversation and pointing and talking and labeling then that can actually lead to some learning,” said Brigid Barron, an associate professor in the School of Education at Stanford University, who specializes in the relationship between kids and technology. “Just sitting your 12-month-old down in front of media alone does not seem to lead to any learning.”
I conducted some very unscientific testing myself, plopping an Inno Tab 2 Baby in front of my various little cousins, aged 22 months to 9 years old. Most of them are pretty tech-savvy for their age. Edward, who is 7 years old, figured out how to unlock my Android phone within two minutes and navigate to the menu. Brooke, at 9 years old, has an iPod touch and regularly emails and FaceTimes with the other girls on her soccer team.
The results? Older kids like Edward and Brooke activated and navigated the Inno Tab with aplomb, if becoming a little bored quickly. Charlotte and Amanda are both 3 years old, but the former spends much more time playing with her parents’ smartphones. That showed — she’s also an Angry Birds whiz — since Charlotte had no problem playing with the Inno Tab. Amanda, on the other hand, passed most of her time using the stylus to madly scribble across the screen, without any particular objective.
Brandon, my youngest cousin, at 22 months, stared at the thick plastic contraption with the cluelessness of someone still trying to master the toilet. He seldom made it past the welcome screen, as he only focused on the Inno Tab’s physical buttons rather than its screen. That meant he hit the power button as soon as we would turn it on.
“I think he failed the test,” laughed Michael, his father.
With the older kids, the Inno Tab played over as well and intuitively as any educational tablet like the LeapPad. However, though younger kids such Brandon and Amanda fell within the right age range, it’s clear that outside guidance was necessary for them to figure out what the Inno Tab even did, emphasizing the need for parents to be present with their children as they play with the tablets.
“Parents just have to use a sort of common sense approach and look carefully and watch,” Barron said. “It’s most powerful if children can be playing with parents or peers so that they’re not just playing alone.”