Here’s another twist on messaging aiming to make digital comms more fun. Toymail is a Wi-Fi connected toy that lets parents talk remotely to their kids via a smartphone app — with their message spoken in the toy’s tone of voice. Why can’t they just give their kids a cheap phone and call them up? Of course they can, but a phone probably isn’t going to be as cute looking or fun sounding as Toymail’s ‘Mailmen’ toys.
The idea is to inject a little cartoon fun into parent/child digital interactions, and give kids a chance to play with physical toys rather than being sucked into screens and phones so early. (While letting parents carry on their love affair with their smartphones.) There’s a choice of five different Mailmen characters, which have been designed to look like a cross between a mailbox and an animal.
Toymail is not the first cutesy connected object that can remotely convey messages. The now defunct Nabaztag rabbit springs to mind. Toymail’s Mailmen also have some spiritual overlap with The Little Printer — although where that gizmo churns out tiny little rolls of paper inked with messages, the Mailmen’s missives are pure audio.
Toymail does allow for conversations not just one-way broadcasts, though, since kids can hit a button on the back of their Mailman to reply to the last message received — with the kids’ reply delivered for playback in the app. Only people who have been approved via the app are able to connect to the Mailman, so random strangers aren’t going to be able to send messages.
And if you’ve run out of things to say yourself, there’s a Daily Toymailer service you can sign up for that will send a daily message to the toy, greeting your child by name and singing a song or sharing a factoid or quote.
One half of the Toymail’s creator team, entrepreneur and MIT alumna Gauri Nanda, came up with the cute yet fiendish Clocky: an alarm clock with wheels so it could scoot out of your reach and force you to crawl out of bed to shut it off.
Toymail has taken to Kickstarter to try to raise $60,000 to get Toymail to market. At the time of writing, it’s approaching $10k raised, with 17 days left on the campaign.
And while each Mailman costs $50 to Kickstarter backers, and the iOS app is free (an Android app is planned), there is an ongoing cost associated with use of Toymail. Parents will need to buy virtual books of stamps to send messages to the toys. Each stamp is good for one message, and a book of 50 stamps costs $0.99 — or unlimited stamps are $2.99 per month.
Lil’Stylers, a new shopping discovery service launching first on the iPhone, has a different (and maybe unsettling?) take on tracking children’s fashion trends. For those following mobile shopping space, the easiest way to put it is to say it’s a “Pose for kids.” To better explain what that means, Lil’Stylers is an attempt at building a social community around sharing outfits, looks, style ideas, and favorite brands to help inspire parents looking for new ideas in children’s fashion.
The potentially icky part? The unwitting participants in this new community are your own kids.
Yes, the idea with Lil’Stylers is to have parents snap and share the photos of their own children, rockin’ the latest in tutus and skinny jeans. On the company’s homepage, it even goes so far as to encourage this activity noting in “step 1″ of Lil’Stylers’ etiquette rules that they prefer a picture of ”kids wearing clothes, rather than clothes on a hanger.”
Say cheese, kiddo, momma wants to earn some style points for having the best-dressed little bugaboo.
Of course, today’s kids have been born into a world of the over-share, where entire social communities have been built up around the concept of doing fun, new things with selfies. (Cough, FrontBack, cough). And I’m not going to lie, my kid’s photos have been around the internet already, on social services like Facebook and Instagram, for example. I also upload our family photos to various cloud services, like Google+ and Flickr, where I might not have always remembered to set the privacy toggle on. I also once used a picture of my kid (as a baby) here on TechCrunch, but I at least had the decency to feel pretty bad about it later.
Despite my seeming hypocrisy then in questioning this kind of service, I’ll point out that largely, my photo-sharing behavior has been about connecting with family and friends. While an occasional tweet might place these photos in the hands of a wider audience, the general motivation is one of connecting with people I know, not strangers. (And tweets are somewhat ephemeral anyway.)
So where exactly is the line between sharing on Facebook with people I know, which turns me into a potentially monetizable user who clicks on ads and makes Facebook money, and sharing my kid’s photos with strangers for the purpose of commerce? It’s a gray area these days, to say the least.
Lil’Stylers founder Eric Dillon also points to today’s photo-sharing trends in justifying the service’s push to have parents photograph, then share the photos of their kids with a larger community for the purpose of fashion inspiration. And when I point out that there will be some parents out there who may find such a thing a bit touchy, he agrees.
“Yes, snapping pics of kids is touchy. However, if you have a look at Pinterest or Instagram, you will find plenty,” Dillon says. “Like every other community, five percent of the users will generate most of the content. Even if the rest is only following, they will still create multiple impressions of a pic, and be consumers.”
Ah, so Lil’Stylers will mainly take advantage of the moms (and dads maybe, but honestly, mostly moms) who tend to overexpose their kids anyway? Well, that will fly in the mommy blogger community then. (And, well, yep.) Mommy bloggers have long since positioned themselves as brands’ friends, and many are already working with these companies, so to lean on them for Lil’Stylers curated user-generated content makes sense.
And eventually, assuming the service grew large enough, those mommy bloggers could participate in revenue-sharing agreements with Lil’Stylers, which is today monetizing from affiliate sales.
I should also point out that the app offers a privacy setting which would allow users to only share their children’s photos with a close circle of family and friends. It’s off by default, but it’s at least an option for those on the fence about whether or not they should post.
Outside of these concerns, the app itself is great. It has a clean, modern design, where photos are tagged with the appropriate brand names. Over 100+ kids clothing brands are represented in Lil’Stylers, too, including Desigual Kids, Pale Cloud, Il Gufo, Nununu Kids, and others. Many brands have taken the time to sign up, create profiles and look-books inside the app, and will regularly post their own pictures, says Dillon. You can already shop the brands which have created profiles by tapping on the photo tags’ with the icon of the shopping bag next to them. These takes you to the brand’s profile page where you can follow their own shares, and visit their site.
Though only weeks old, the app has already seen some 17,000 user sessions from its small, but active early adopting community of over 700 parents, who have shared thousands of photos.
Dillon says Lil’Stylers will grow its user base initially by targeting the mommy bloggers as well as other bloggers and influencers, as well as reaching out to more kids’ clothes brands. The company is also in discussions with larger retailers, he adds. And to get its name out there, it’s doing marketing stunts, like this recent kids’ fashion show, for example.
Seattle-based Lil’Stylers is co-founded by longtime software development manager Dillon and Kirti Baliga, whose background is in merchandising. Dillon, a father of two, says that the idea for the company came to him because “where did you buy that?” is a common question parents already ask each other their kid’s clothing. With Lil’Stylers, the hope is to broaden those parent-to-parent recommendations further.
The company is currently bootstrapped, and both founders are working their full-time jobs until month-end. You can download the Lil’Stylers app here in iTunes. Should you? You decide.
Just in time for frenzied family trips to the mall — i.e. the holiday season — wearable tech maker Filip Technologies is preparing to take its first product to market, a GPS and mobile-enabled watch that keeps children and their parents in communication. After three years in product development, AT&T has partnered with Filip Technologies as the device’s network provider, distributor, and billing service.
Exact pricing and service plans will be announced in the coming weeks, Filip Technologies CEO Jonathan Peachey said. Although the final retail price on the FiLIP watch has not been set, it will not exceed $200. The monthly voice and data plan will be less than that, Peachey added, the aim being to not burden the average family’s monthly mobile budget.
The colorful two-button watch, worn by the child and hooked up to an app on a parent’s phone, can make and receive calls to the parent. It also uses a combination of GPS, cell tower location, and WiFi triangulation to act as a locator, and there’s an emergency button that begins ambient sound recording and connects the child with emergency services. And although smartwatches are so hot right now, it’s wearable primarily because kids are prone to losing things not attached to their bodies.
The FiLIP watch is aimed at children 11 and younger, given that many parents don’t want to buy their kids a cell phone until they’re a bit older. Although there are GPS devices and phones with limited calling capabilities targeted at children on the market, it’s a diversity of features that Filip Technologies is hoping will set its product apart.
“You need a combination of location and voice,” Peachey said. “I can’t point to a product that does the features we do in a wearable product.”
This summer has marked a few milestones in the development of the product. FiLIP passed its FCC certification in late July, making it the first wearable mobile device with full two-way voice capability to do so. Earlier that month, Peachey joined the Filip team from Virgin Group, where he was the CEO of Virgin Management USA and later an advisor to Sir Richard Branson.
It took about two years of engineering effort to get the product to a place where it could enter FCC testing, Peachey said. During that time the engineering team built a large scale prototype and then spent nine months shrinking it down to the size it is today.
An official drop date isn’t set yet, but the device will land in stores in the next few months.
Filip is the world’s first smart locator and phone for kids – designed to keep families in touch. When Sten Kirkbak lost his 3-year old son Filip for thirty minutes, it inspired the idea for ‘Filip’: a new type of device to keep parents and their young children in touch. After speaking with other parents, it was clear that there was a need for this type of device to help give children the freedom they need to explore and discover,…
A North Carolina school district has suspended the use of 15,000 tablets after reports of multiple hardware issues, including the device’s charger melting at home. Guilford County Superintendent Maurice “Mo” Green has suspended the $30 million program on safety concerns.
The recall is a major sting for NewsCorp’s Amplify, which released details of its digital-first education initiative back at TechCrunch Disrupt 2012. Directed by former New York City education chancellor, Joel Klein, there are high hopes that Amplify can help bring K-12 education into the 21st century. But, melting tablet accessories aren’t a good sign.
“We recognize that suspending the program on short notice is going to be disruptive to students, staff and parents,” Green Explained. “My decision was made out of an abundance of caution, and I decided to err on the side of safety.”
Apparently, that’s not the only problem. As reported by News & Record,
“Parent Linda Mozell said her daughter and other students at Southeast Middle School had repeated problems connecting to the Internet with their tablets. And even though her daughter got one of the “hard shell” protective cases, that caused its own set of problems, she said. The keyboard’s hard-shell case kept rubbing against the tablet screen in a way that could scar it, she said. In addition, the cord connecting the tablet and keyboard broke easily, the stylus was too big for easy use, and the equipment came home without a user’s manual.”
Amplify has given us a response (pasted in full below) and tells us that the breakage rate of screens is around 3%, which compares to Asus’s industry average, around 2.5%. An Amplify spokesperson says the melting charger is (so far) an isolated incident.
Amplify and Guilford county aren’t the only ones experiencing hiccups with tablet. Los Angeles Unified suspended it’s 1-for-1 iPad program after students hacked through the filters, granting them full-fledged access to the bountiful wonders of the Internet.
Presumably the next round of Amplify’s tablets will not pose a safety risk to children. Amplify’s response is below:
“This week our largest customer, Guilford County Schools, informed us that a tablet charger, which was manufactured by ASUS, was partially melted while charging a student’s tablet at home overnight.
We are working to determine whether the issue was caused by an electrical problem in the student’s home or because of a manufacturing defect.
While the problem occurred with only one of the more than 500,000 chargers of this kind that ASUS has manufactured and distributed across the world, one instance is too many in our opinion. Nothing comes before the safety of our students, teachers and their families.
Out of an abundance of caution, we are requesting that Amplify Tablet customers cease all further use of the ASUS charger until we can determine the cause of the single reported malfunction in Guilford County, North Carolina.”
Read the original post: Student Tablet Hardware Melts, District Suspends $30 Million Amplify Program On Safety Concerns
Any parent who has used powder formula to feed your baby knows that measuring the formula, making sure the water is clean and at room temperature, and mixing the formula and water is a challenging task. Especially when it is 3 am, and you have a hungry, screaming baby in your arms. Piena is a new gadget that basically takes some of the hassle out of mixing baby formula.
Developed by a husband and wife team who were both former engineers at Samsung; Piena is a freestanding formula mixer and water purifier. As one blogger writes, it’s the Keurig of formula mixing.
The mixer itself looks a lot like a coffee maker–you simple plug it into an outlet. There are separate compartments for water and for the formula. You can put up to 24 oz of formula into the container and the patented freshness seal guarantees the powder stays fresh and dry up to 4 weeks. You can then fill the water reservoir with up to 8 oz of water. And you place the bottle under the dispenser.
When you hit the on button, the water will come to a boil within 60 seconds, and then the water is cooled to near body temperature and automatically dispensed into the bottle. The water sterilization process is a concern for some parents (the World Health Organization does advise parents to boil water). If you live in an area where your water is relatively safe and clean, then you don’t really have to be concerned about the quality of the water. But in many areas of the world, water isn’t clean and this 60-second water purification process that Piena provides could be particularly useful to parents.
After the sterilization water is dispensed into the bottle, you turn the wheel on the formula reservoir to dispense the right amount of baby formula powder into the bottle. One wheel turn equals 2 oz of formula, we’re told.
While the gadget itself doesn’t provide completely hands free formula mixing, it does make the entire process that much easier, especially when it comes to sterilizing water. And all of the parts are dishwasher safe for easy cleaning.
In terms of the competition there are many hand held mixers on the market, and a few high-powered mixers similar to Piena, but the Piena promises complete water sterilization and cooling down in one.
While I think the gadget could save sleep-deprived parents some time and energy, my biggest complaint with Piena is its price. Right now Piena, which is still in production mode, is retailing for around $150 on Indiegogo. For parents who spend hundreds of dollars on strollers, swings and more, that price may not be as steep, but for most of the world $150 is a stretch. I see the this gadget as being incredibly useful to international markets where water quality is a real concern. Compounded with the high cost of formula, the cost of the Piena may disqualify many of the parents who need the mixer the most.
While Piena, which is part of Strong Ventures’ incubator, is only available in Indiegogo for now, the company is currently in talks with retailers to include in stores and online.
View original post here: Meet Piena, A Hassle-Free Baby Formula Maker Developed By Two Ex-Samsung Engineers
If a startup called Oyster is the Netflix for e-books, then iStoryTime is the children’s alternative. One of the oldest players in the kids’ interactive e-books app market is zuuka (aka iStoryTime), a company founded in 2009 and backed by $2 million in Series A funding. The company has been steadily growing its collection of digital, interactive e-books and apps, now reaching some 200 different applications across all the major mobile app stores and digital book marketplaces. Recently, it made a move to consolidate access to its collection of stories in a flagship application where parents can buy books a la carte, or, as of this month’s version 2.0 update, choose engage with advertisers to earn book credits, or even subscribe to the entire collection.
The company’s name alone may not ring a bell among parents, but there’s a good chance many have at least one of the iStoryTime apps installed on a mobile device somewhere. That’s because iStoryTime works with major studios to license content, including all of DreamWorks’ movies, plus content from Sony, PBS, Jim Henson, Cartoon Network, Mattel, and others. Its collection of apps and e-books offers a ton of recognizable kids’ brands, including Smurfs, Madagascar, How To Train Your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda, Shrek, Ice Age, Barney, “The Croods”, and many others.
Apps are available in iTunes, Amazon’s Appstore, Google Play, and Microsoft Surface’s app store, while e-books can be found on platforms like Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Apple’s iBooks, and Amazon’s Kindle. Basically, it’s a good many of the kid-focused studio brands (which aren’t Disney), in every major mobile marketplace.
“For a long time, we’ve been doing one app, one story,” explains iStoryTime co-founder Graham Farrar, who previously was a part of the founding team at Sonos. “Now we’ve launched our iStoryTime library as the second phase of our strategy – we’ve built the content library, now we’re building the distribution side,” he says.
The one app, available first on iOS, includes all the company’s licensed titles under a single roof. It ships with four free titles (Madagascar, Ice Age, Smurfs and Robin Hood), and then offers up each additional interactive book for sale, priced on average at $3.00 for a full-length narrated book. Many of these books also include animated stills in addition to the narration – a feature now common to interactive e-book apps today.
The company soft launched version 1.0 of the iStoryBook app a few months ago, with the option for parents to purchase books through the app’s included, but child-protected, in-app store. That’s actually a feature which makes iStoryBook stand out from a number of kids’ app makers, which far too often put the in-app upgrades in front of children’s eyes to their great dismay as parents continually tell them “no.” Instead, says Farrar, separating the kids’ side (the bookshelf) from the parents’ side (the store), offers a better experience for both sets of users.
“The freemium business model is great, but there’s a lot of fatigue around every time the kid clicks something, they’ve got to pay for it,” he says.
Children using the app see no ads or prompts to purchase, while parents can browse through the e-book selections in the store, receive alerts and notifications, and even preview the books before buying.
In the recent version 2.0 update, iStoryBook introduced an interesting feature through a partnership with TapJoy. Parents can optionally engage with advertisers behind the parental lock in order to gain points which can be applied to storybook purchases. For example, a parent may be asked to “like” Samsung on Facebook, watch a commercial, try out Hulu, get an insurance quote, and other activities, to earn these points. The points are transferred into the app’s wallet, and can then be used to buy books.
Parents can also purchase books via standard in-app purchases or subscription-based payments, starting at $5/month, with discounts for buying in 6 or 12 months chunks in advance. Farrar declined to provide conversion metrics given the newness of this subscription option, but would say that the app has seen nearly half a million downloads in the three months since launch, and the titles are seeing 2 to 3 times more revenue than they see in iBooks. (Combined, the company’s titles have seen over 6 million downloads to date).
Farrar admits that some of iStoryBook’s stories may be lacking in educational value, in terms of the lessons or morals provided, versus some of the company’s competitors. But, generally speaking, reading is still better than having kids playing video games or watching videos, he feels.
We’ve tried a number of “edu-tainment” in my household – most recently iStoryBook competitors like Speakaboos and FarFaria, as well as combination story/game apps like Hullabalu, and others. And it continues to be a wonder every time my kid launches a simple narrated storybook over the more interactive and engaging content found in apps like Leo’s Pad or PlaySquare TV, for example. But it could be that she, and other kids, are drawn to the variety offered by library collections, while the story/games become tiresome upon repeated viewings. iStoryBook should compete well, if that’s the case, with some 50+ titles available at launch, and plans to grow by at least one more per week. Plus, iStoryBook’s already familiar characters should prove an added draw.
Later this year, the plan is to introduce an “instructional” mode within the app which could help to add more educational elements to these now mainly entertainment-focused stories. That is, the app could pause the story to engage with the child, asking them how the character may be feeling, or augment the material with other content based on the Common Core Standards.
Interested parents can download the new iStoryBook for iOS app here on iTunes.
Zuuka! is a children application publisher that develops digital children’s media for mobile devices.
Go here to read the rest: iStoryTime Debuts A “Netflix For Ebooks” For Kids
Stephanie Hua spent the last ten years pushing for educational reform, first as the CEO of the Fund for Public Schools under former Chancellor of New York’s Department of Education, Joel Klein, and Caroline Kennedy, before becoming senior advisor to David Coleman at Student Achievement Partners (SAP). But as much time as she spent as a reformer on “the inside,” when it came time for Dua’s daughter to learn how to read, she struggled to find any quality materials for parents that could help get their kids started on the right path.
With the help of former Google engineer Iris Tang, Dua created Learn With Homer, a business and reading app for the iPad of the same name, which launched on the App Store this week. The idea was to transform how kids age 3 to 6 learn how to read, but not just by creating another eBook or cute little game-ified learning app for the iPad.
Instead, Dua and Tang wanted to bring together the latest educational research, learning techniques and teaching practices to create a better learning experience for both kids and parents. And one, importantly, that is aligned with the new standards of the Common Core, so that parents have assurance that their kids will start school (or kindergarten) ahead of the curve. To do so, the app blends a whole mess of custom learning content and stories taken from fairy tales, fables, and various mythologies with some killer, custom illustrations and art to make the content more engaging for young eyeballs.
Alongside these stories, Learn with Homer includes a phonics program that aims to teach kids how words not only look, but how they sound and how they’re strung together. The motivation, Dua tells us, is to create a “comprehensive literacy program” for the iPad, where kids are not just memorizing words by sight as their parents read to them at bedtime, for example, but actually learning the sounds of the words as they go.
The iPad then offers “field trips” that aim to bring the platform’s lessons into the real world by showing pictures of a fun range of animal characters and allowing kids to hear their own voices and words imitate those characters. Parents can also make recordings of their kids during the process, measuring their progress as they move through Learn With Homer’s 30 (free to download) lessons.
Parental units can also add up to three kids per account or access free storage for up to 500 of these recordings — as well as drawings. To that end, Learn With Homer offers printable mazes and other engaging puzzles, artwork and lists of books that you can buy online to supplement your wee ones’ learning activities.
“The single biggest predictor of children’s academic success is their reading level at third grade,”
Dua tells us. “Through Learn With Homer, we want to help kids and parents in the early years, when it matters most. So every element of the experience serves a learning purpose, but also allows kids to have fun. Our parent testers were blown away by how much their children enjoyed using Learn with Homer — and even more by how much their children learned.”
It’s tough to create an engaging, gamified product experience, while prioritizing the learning experience in a way that doesn’t cheapen either side and maintains the balance. Learn With Homer does both, and the design is actually stunning. You don’t have to play with this for long before realizing how much parents are going to love this.
Learn With Homer is backed by $2.2 million in seed financing raised from a flock of venture and angel investors, including: Great Oaks Venture Capital; Paul Francis, Entrepreneur and early CFO of Priceline; Tom Glocer, former CEO of Thomson Reuters, Founding Partner of Angelic Ventures; Rob Soni, Entrepreneur, Investor, former Managing Partner at Bessemer Venture Partners and General Partner at Matrix Ventures; and Matt Turck, Managing Director, FirstMark Capital (who invested personally).
For more, find Learn With Homer at home here.