Toymakers Aim Technology at Younger Kids Tech guru Mario Armstrong describes popular tech toys for toddlers. He says kids are conscious about their age and won't play with toys they don't find trendy. Parents should provide balance, he says, by making kids socialize and play with toys that force them to be creative.
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Toymakers Aim Technology at Younger Kids

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Toymakers Aim Technology at Younger Kids

Toymakers Aim Technology at Younger Kids

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

By today, Christmas Eve, you surely have seen part of or maybe even all of the movie, "A Christmas Story" in which the main character wants only one thing -one thing in the whole world for Christmas.

(Soundbite of clip, "A Christmas Story")

Mr. PETER BILLINGSLEY (Actor): (As Ralphie Parker) I want an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle.

INSKEEP: The Red Ryder BB gun must've seemed like a great gift a few decades ago, and no doubt, some kid in America will be getting a BB gun tomorrow morning. But toy marketer has pushed well beyond the vet as you know.

And our Tech guru Mario Armstrong is here for our Monday look at technology to tell us about technology targeted to very, very young kids.

Mario, what do you got?

MARIO ARMSTRONG: Hey, Steve. Very young kid is absolutely right. We have an assortment of different products. Number one, I'm holding a digital camera. This actually is a digital camera made by Fisher Price. It's called the Digital Tough Camera and I'll let you hold it so maybe you can feel why they called it Digital Tough.

INSKEEP: It got that grip handles on it - here. It's made up of plastic. A little rubber - you feel on that, man.

ARMSTRONG: Bounce proof.

INSKEEP: Can I drop it? Do you mind if I drop it?

ARMSTRONG: As if - let's do it live.

INSKEEP: Okay, let me just drop it here on this hardwood floor.

ARMSTRONG: Oh, but, Steve, it still works.

(Soundbite of laughing)

INSKEEP: It is a real camera (unintelligible).

ARMSTRONG: It is a real digital camera. I'll take a picture.

INSKEEP: Okay.

ARMSTRONG: It's only 1.3 megapixel quality. So that's about a 4x6 prints. So you're not going to make 8x10s with this.

INSKEEP: So that's what my almost 3-year-old is going to say - I'm sorry it's only got 1.3-megapixel quality. I need your camera, dad - your camera, dad.

ARMSTRONG: That's right. Well, that's been the challenge though. The issue has been - you know, kids can tell the difference between a fake digital camera and a real digital camera. And so, even my 5-year-old, he sees us interfacing with technology, computers, mp3 players, cell phones and cameras. And he wants to touch the real thing. And consumer electronics companies and toys companies are focusing now on how do we make products that seemed a little bit more real to kids.

INSKEEP: So that's going to raise some questions, which we're going to talk about. But let's look at some more of the gadgets we've got here.

ARMSTRONG: This is a Vtech Laptop. This is for toddlers. It does, you know, basic things like mouse training. It also has number games, counting games. Basic - really basic games. But if you look at it, Steve, it mean - it's orange, it's yellow; it's very small. It's kid-friendly. Has a little handle.

INSKEEP: But it has a real computer keyboard. Maybe, a little bit of a small screen there that the discerning two and half - 3-year-old might have an issue with.

ARMSTRONG: Exactly.

INSKEEP: You got a screen about a little bigger than a cell phone screen. Any idea how this toy would get marketed with what could describe as a defect like that or at least something that the kid is going to pick up on.

ARMSTRONG: And that's the challenge. You would think that they're spending millions of dollars, you would think that they would have these focus groups that would be in place, but you still end up having products like this that to me did not engage my son.

I also wondered, though, if they know that these devices aren't going to be around long. If they can get one hit and it last for a 12 or 14 months, then the life cycle of the product. And so be it. They move on in stages. There's so many products for so many kids at varying stages. I almost think that they know it will have a short shelf life, and they'll move on to the next thing and kind of gradually grow.

INSKEEP: Planned obsolescence for the growing consumer.

ARMSTRONG: Maybe soon.

INSKEEP: Is this, in any way, a dangerous or a risky business because you don't know when you get down to marketing for that 3-year-old if they're going to grab on it or if they're going to say ah, you know, I don't need this Elmo computer interface. I'm already on the Web.

ARMSTRONG: Yeah, I think that's a great point. I think it is risky for these marketers to try to figure this out because in the case of lot of kids, the minute it seems too fake, okay, they're conscious about their age, they're conscious about their friend's age. If you have a friend that's playing a Nintendo DS handheld, they're not going to want to play Sesame Street.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

ARMSTRONG: I mean it's tough for my kid now to even want a play - mp3 player. He wants an iPod.

INSKEEP: He wants to be able to record his own music and shuffles.

ARMSTRONG: He thinks he can handle an iPhone.

INSKEEP: He can. I tell right now, he can.

ARMSTRONG: He probably can.

INSKEEP: What else you got there?

ARMSTRONG: Well, speaking of mp3 players, this one is a Sansa Shaker, which is kind of fun I think. And this is kind of where technology needs to kind of go -keep it fun. Let's not have our kids so trapped into a screen that we lose out on fun sight. I'm going to play a few songs from this little handheld device.

INSKEEP: Okay.

ARMSTRONG: Here we go.

INSKEEP: You press the button and…

(Soundbite of song, "Bingo")

Unidentified Group: (Singing) There was a farmer who had a farm…

INSKEEP: Oh, that's a greatest hit.

ARMSTRONG: And it's small. It's about the shape of a little two…

(Soundbite of song, "Bingo")

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) B-I-N-G-O

ARMSTRONG: As you see, it's his jammed. And when you shake it, it actually can change tracks.

(Soundbite of song, "Farmer in the Dell")

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) The farmer in the dell.

INSKEEP: Oh, my God.

(Soundbite of song, "Farmer in the Dell")

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) The farmer in the dell. Hi-ho, the derry-o, the farmer in the dell.

INSKEEP: Whitney Houston? I don't know. Who is that? Hot, hot recording of "Farmer in the Dell." How much of this stuff are you buying for your kids?

ARMSTRONG: Not a lot. Lot of people think that oh, you know, the guy who's always talking about digital stuff. He would clearly push his kid in front of it. And, actually, I've taking a different approach. I've been making sure that yes, I want my kid exposed to technology, and I think that's critical to be exposed. But I think parents need to do the balance of what's too much, what's too little and making sure that they're doing all the things that kids should still be doing. Playing with stuff animals, having an imagination, running around with toys that he has to create the storyline, and an interactive story for playing with other kids and socializing. So he doesn't get a lot. But he'll probably - as long he's not listening to this broadcast - he'll probably end up with this digital camera.

INSKEEP: There we go. Mario Armstrong, good to talk with you again.

ARMSTRONG: Likewise, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's our MORNING EDITION tech guru Mario Armstrong who also host the technology Show, "Armstrong's Digital Spin" on member station WEAA in Baltimore.

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