Toys R Us markets a tablet for the youngest users


Children play with iPads and the apptivity app in London in August 2012. The new app from toy maker Mattel allows children use Hot Wheels, Batman, WWE and other toys to interact with an Apple iPad. (Peter Macdiarmid/GETTY IMAGES)

In a storm of mobile product launches emerges a new competitor: tablets for tiny tots.

That’s the niche Toys R Us hopes to carve out for itself to compete against Apple’s iPad or Amazon’s Kindle Fire with a $150 kid-oriented tablet called the Tabeo.

The release by the toy retailing giant highlights the race to grab the attention and wallets of the youngest tech consumers who are quickly adopting smartphones and other gadgets.

Examples of new kid-focused tech abound. Social networks are fighting for subscribers younger than 13. Major retailers have launched social networking campaigns aimed at young online users. And last week, Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos showed off his latest tablet, the Kindle Fire, touting how parents can easily limit how much kids can spend on the device.

“Kids are looking for a tablet of their own that can do everything from listening to music to playing with games,” said Troy Peterson, lead marketer for the Tabeo, which will be sold by Toys R Us exclusively.

Several tablets have tried to break into the youth niche and failed. The Tabeo is geared toward children as young as 5 and comes pre-loaded with educational apps and a curated app store to give kids access to a limited number of programs.Not that it’s all about hitting the books. “Angry Birds” and other games can be downloaded. Parents will be able to block mature content.

Yet even with device-makers emphasizing parental controls, regulators and child safety advocates say youth laws have not kept up to protect the privacy and safety of the Web’s fastest-growing segment of mobile-device users.

Six in 10 teens own a smartphone, a 20 percent jump from last year, according to a report released Monday by Nielsen. Thousands of music and alphabet learning apps are showcased in the iTunes and Android stores for toddlers and infants. Apple sold 1 million iPads to K-12 students in June, said investment analyst Charlie Wolf of Needham & Co., adding that schools appear to be replacing PCs with tablets.

The Federal Trade Commission is rewriting child Internet privacy laws, and one idea under consideration is making it illegal, without a parent’s permission, to collect personal information about children online or on mobile devices.

Analysts say children are expected to drive tablet sales this holiday season. Many families will buy new tablets and hand down older models to their kids. Consumers are expected to buy 180 million tablets in 2013, triple the number sold in 2011, according to Gartner.

“Kids are getting tablets very young and are growing up very mobile,” said Michael Allenson, a strategic director of research for Maritz Research. “Initially we thought people would buy just one tablet for the entire household, but what happened was everyone in the family wanted their own.”

Cecilia Kang is a national technology reporter, writing about tech and Internet policies at the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission and how regulations affect businesses and consumers.
Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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