2014 heralded the rise of wearable tech, with Samsung predicting a 182 per cent increase in revenue on Christmas 2013. Robert Hutchins explores how the emerging sector is making waves in the toy space
The latest wave of wearable tech is here to shape up our nation’s youngsters, get them off their couches and encourage them to get healthy through active play.
The government has made no secret of its belief that we are harbouring a youth affected by health issues, with research indicating that just 21 per cent of boys and 16 per cent of girls meet the recommended daily dose
And in a modern world increasingly focused upon technological advancement, it isn’t difficult to see how time for active play can so easily slip away. However, as popular pre-school brand LeapFrog insists, technology doesn’t always have to equate to passivity.
Last summer, the firm made its mark upon the wearable tech sector with the launch of its LeapBand, a piece of kit designed to blend children’s love for technology with active play.
“LeapBand was really born out of the need for a product to keep children active and energised, but more importantly; enthusiastic about it,” explains Emily Brown, UK and EMEAA product manager, LeapFrog.
“With LeapBand, children are encouraged to get up and move around in really fun and imaginative ways.”
Via the LeapBand, kids are guided through a series of physical activities by a virtual pet that they can name and customise themselves. Taking a leaf out of Pavlov’s diary, the LeapBand then positively reinforces kids’ movement with virtual rewards.
Still in its relative infancy, wearable tech is an emerging sector that is fast finding a place within the hearts of the consumer, and while the final total is yet to be documented, last year Samsung predicted that the UK wearables revenue looked set to increase 182 per cent on Christmas 2013.
Meanwhile, across the UK, retailers, consumers and even the government are getting behind the products aimed at easing the pressure of over-critical parenting and getting kids to enjoy exercise.
“We need to help our children become more ‘physically literate’,” Ann Hoskins, director of the healthy people division at Public Health England, tells ToyNews.
“We are seeing a generation growing up in environments that make it easier to be sedentary. If tech games are working to get kids more active, then it is a step in the right direction.”
And according to LeapFrog, the response from parents and consumers to its LeapBand has been unprecedented.
“Wearable tech has been in the spotlight a lot over the last 12 months and I don’t think that anyone can deny that it is becoming more and more relevant,” continues Brown.
“We are thrilled with the performance so far, our retailers have really got behind LeapBand and the sales figures are growing every week.”
Of course, wherever consumer technology advances, VTech is never far away, ready to interpret it for the pre-school market, and with its recent launch The Kidizoom Smartwatch, the firm has done just that.
A customisable watch, the Kidizoom Smartwatch allows users to take and edit photos, record videos and play games wherever they are. The Smartwatch is even PC compatible, allowing kids to upload their photos for editing via the VTech Learning Lodge on InnoTab Max.
“VTech is the global leader in children’s electronic learning products, so it makes sense to transfer the technology into new, growing categories,” Rebecca Lazarus, senior brand manager at VTech, tells ToyNews.
“Wearable tech is a growing sector for adults and we predict that it will be just as popular among children, plus the Kidizoom Smartwatch is much more fun than an adult version, you can record voices and edit photos – you don’t get that in the adult sector.”
For Leapfrog, the firm believes that the wearable tech sector will really establish itself over the next one to two years, and as the market leaders in pre-school educational products, both Leapfrog and VTech will endeavor to continue to be at the forefront of the movement.
“Wearable tech lends itself to the toy industry perfectly,” says LeapFrog’s Brown.
“Toy shops are where children do their own window shopping, and I believe wearable tech will continue to grow its presence there.”
Arguably, wearable tech has been present for a number of years already, sneaking in to the toy aisles in various guises, such as the Spy Net line-up of children’s spy gear from Jakks Pacific.
Bridging the gap between toys and the adult wearable tech of today, Spy Net features a range of watches and glasses boasting espionage technology such as silent ear communication and surveillance tech.
“This is real working technology that you can rely on,” explains Jakks Pacific’s marketing manager, Ken Goodisson. “Our watches and glasses have been evergreens since launch, and it seems they have bridged a gap between toys for older kids and wearable tech.
“And I believe that as long as product is kept inspiring, then wearable tech toys can stand the test of time.”
Away from the toy aisles however, wearable tech toys is still very much a fledgling sector, relying on the dedication of the innovators and inventors to bring it to the fore. It’s no surprise then that Kickstarter is becoming a hot bed of wearable tech toy innovation.
And one of the latest products to emerge from the site is a wearable tech-puppet hybrid, designed to uphold the values of traditional play, while keeping up with the evolution of technology.
Created by start-up firm ZippyKit, the aptly named Smart Puppet is aimed at both boys and girls and is designed to blend the educational value of interacting with tablets with real storytelling.
Challenging kids to first construct the textile character, the Smart Puppet features touch screen properties that children can use to engage in the character’s storytelling, teaching them the values of traditional play time with the aid of technology.
Whatever the future holds for wearable tech toys, it is clear that the sector is destined to be shaped by the numerous innovators in the field.
“Technology trends are changing so fast all the time and wearables are no exception,” continues LeapFrog’s Brown. “Wearables is still in its infancy, so the approach has to be slightly different, it’s working to a different rhythm, so we have to keep on our toes and stay agile,” she concludes.