LeapFrog has just launched its LeapPad Ultra tablets for kids between the age of 4 and 9. If you are familiar with the previous versions of the LeapPad, the new “Ultra” model basically features a larger display and faster hardware. If you have not heard of the previous ones before, the Ultra is built on the same principle: provide a tablet for kids that is safe “out of the box”, without any setup by the parents. I’ve had one of those tablets in my hands for a short time, and I can report that it is built to be very tough against shocks, although it is not water/dust resistant. If you are stressed by the idea of loaning an iPad to kids, this LeapFrog design should alleviate the fear of having something break because kids can be clumsy and/or careless.
In terms of hardware features, there’s nothing really extraordinary about this tablet. It won’t really compete with the usual suspects like the Google Nexus 7 in terms of “specs”, but when it comes down to it, LeapFrog is betting that “content is king” and so far, this has worked quite well for them. The company says that its LeapPad tablet has access to 800+ apps/books/movies that are especially tailored for kids by a large team of people specialized in this particular field. This is the company’s biggest strength for a public that wants something “educative” and “safe”, without having to curate the content themselves. Apps cost about $5 and cartridges are more pricey at $25.
It’s obvious that anyone also have the option of getting an good $199 tablet and use a thick case to “ruggedize” it to some extent. The time-consuming part comes when it is time to curate the content and securing the web access so that kids can’t get to sites that parents don’t intend them to look at, or buy apps without prior approval.
There is also a “search engine for kids” (which is really more like a mini-encyclopedia) to let children browse and discover topical information without having to type search phrases. Doing all that is possible, but not everyone wants to spend the time to make this type of setup work. Finally, the LeapFrog apps are proprietary, so they are not available elsewhere.
The LeadPad Ultra connects to the Internet via WiFi (there is no 3G model for now), and users can download games/content, text-chat within the same WiFi network (parents don’t feel comfortable having kids chat to outsiders online) and of course play games. Most the games that I have seen have some kind of educational value, but there are some for “pure fun”.
The LeapPad Ultra is scheduled to hit retail stores in the summer (August) and LeapFrog will start pre-sales with online partners on July 17. Eventually, it will make its way to the following countries “later in the fall”: Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Hong Kong, Singapore, Philippines, Korea, Thailand and other Asian countries.
What do you think? Would you rather get a tablet that is designed for kids out of the box, or would you try turning a regular tablet into a kid-friendly device?