Kids like playing with iPads. Last year both ComputerWorld and The New York Times called it the toy of the year. There's something about the big screen, touch interface, and fun apps that make it a child magnet. And it works for parents too: It's like TV with more moral justifications because of its educational and creative apps. But giving a six-year-old a touch screen tablet presents some concerns. Tech does things to kids brains. The Times even has a whole series on the psychological effects of technology on young minds. Not to mention the safety hazards and the possibility of your kid veering from the brain-building apps to something more distracting. What to do? Build a kid-friendly tablet. And that's exactly what LeapFrog has done with the LeapPad tablet, reports The Wall Street Journal's Katherine Boehret. Instead of full-on banning the future, LeapFrog has created something to make both parents and kids happy, without the doubts a fully-plugged in iPad.
An iPad acts as the perfect child pacifier, but it's like handing over the distracting, not-so-educational, and sometimes raunchy, Internet to your kid, a tablet just for children ensures your innocents are using the tech for relative good. The iPad has lots of learning and development programs that benefit the mind, so we should let kids roam its apps explains The New York Times's David Pogue as he struggles with the idea of letting his youngest play around with his iPad. "In the old days, we used to tut-tut about how much TV kids watched--but parents usually made an exception for educational shows like 'Sesame Street' and 'Between the Lions.' How is this any different? Shouldn’t we make exceptions for creative and problem-solving apps?" But it also has other not-so-great content. The LeapPad doesn't, explains Boehret. "This tablet can be used for reading e-books, playing games and running through digital flashcards." That's it. And its main focus is education. Boehret explains how it works:
When children set up the Explorer, they enter their grades, ranging from prekindergarten to sixth grade. The device's activities then automatically tune to a child's capabilities. This means that if a third-grader is performing at a higher level than is expected for that age, the Explorer adjusts to a slightly higher level, and the child is notified and congratulated. However, if a child is progressing at a lower level, the system adjusts to a slightly lower level without notifying the child.
It also lets parents follow along with their child's progress, in a more refined way than standing over your kid's shoulder with the LeapFrog Learning Path feature, continues Boehret. "Whenever the Explorer is plugged into a computer, details about the child's time on the device are transferred to the PC so a parent knows how the child is performing and can get tips on how to help the child improve."
The physicality of the LeapPad also makes more sense for kids, than a standard tablet's. Unlike the iPads, more delicate screen and casing, made with "with tough plastics, a sheet of Mylar over its glass screen and an extra metal frame around the screen to withstand physical abuse," explains Boehret. The device also addresses safety concerns of lithium ion batteries, continues Boehret. "LeapFrog's spokeswoman said this keeps the cost low and noted that Li-Ion batteries can leak, making them unsafe for kids' toys."
Of course all of these compromises come with a price: It's chunky (one-inch thick), has lower screen quality, and is slow. But, what child will care or notice? For $100 you get an educational babysitter that your kids will like. They won't even know what they're missing.