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Elgan: Why the mini-tablet is the children's toy of the year

Small touch tablets will utterly dominate holiday gift sales to children this year, and will become as much a part of kids' culture as Barbie and LEGO.

July 21, 2012 07:00 AM ET

Computerworld - One month before Apple shipped its first touch tablet, I predicted in this space that the iPad would become the "Children's Toy of the Year."

That column was somewhat controversial, because people were viewing the iPad as a high-end luxury item for technology fans, not a toy for children.

It turns out that the iPad was a combination of the two: It became the "toy" of choice for the children of technology fans who buy high-end luxury items.

iPads for children became a surprisingly huge phenomenon, which toy companies and others jumping on board with apps galore.

According to the Wall Street Journal, more than half of all "young children" in the U.S. have "access" to an iPad, iPhone or other touch-screen device.

In fact, the appeal of iPads to kids is the biggest problem with the phenomenon. Go into any Apple store, or check out the Apple section at Best Buy, and you will always see very small children mesmerized by the device.

Apple clearly encourages this. They tend to have a "kids table" at Apple stores, which "have iPads tethered to the table. I call this the Ronald McDonald approach to future sales. Teach very young kids that your brand is associated with fun, and they'll become lifelong brand loyalists.

New York Times tech columnist, "David Pogue, even says he's afraid his 6-year-old son is addicted to the device.

And as is the case with smartphones, children have become very good at downloading iPad apps and tend to be less than concerned about whether they're free or not.

I'll leave the problems associated with children obsessing over touch tablets to another column. In this piece, I'd like to predict, flat-out, that small touch tablets will finish what the iPad started, and become as much a part of kids culture as Barbie and Lego.

Why small tablets are better than big ones for kids

The key attribute of smaller tablets is cheapness. The Google Nexus 7, for example, feels like a $400 gadget, but costs half that amount. The expected "iPad nano" coming this year will probably start at a price at or below $250.

Unlike phones, these tablets require an initial purchase, but not a long-term contract. So the initial price is the full cost of ownership.

Cheapness has two benefits where kids are concerned.

First is that it's more easily justified. Most parents probably don't spend $500 on a birthday gift for their kids.

But the second, less-appreciated benefit is expendability. If a child breaks or loses a $200 "toy," it's bad, but not horrible. A $200 device is worth taking a chance on.



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