In a bid for relevance, Toys “R” Us will launch its own kid-friendly tablet this fall. Beyond too little, too late, getting into the tablet game now only highlights the disconnect between nimble, Web-savvy companies like Amazon and the brick-and-mortar retailers of yore.
If competing with the iPad doesn’t seem to work out well for anyone, going up against the Kindle Fire is nearly as bad an idea. But Toys “R” Us didn’t get the memo. Next month, the company - which got its start selling furniture to expecting baby boomers in 1948 - will release its own 7-inch tablet, the Tabeo. The Tabeo, priced at $150, will feature a 1Ghz processor, 4GB of internal storage, Wi-Fi, and parental controls to block access to the naughtier bits of the Web. (Call me jaded, but I’m actually impressed that the Tabeo will run Android 4.0 rather than hobbling along on some heavily skinned version of Android 2.3.) The Tabeo will ship with 50 free apps, Angry Birds included, and a “drop-safe bumper,” aiming for kid-friendliness in both form and function.
Too Many Tablets
Nonetheless, with a launch date a week after that of the revamped 7-inch Kindle Fire HD, an unimpressive spec sheet, and another sure-to-be-infuriating proprietary app store, the Tabeo is destined to be a non-starter. And the Tabeo doesn’t just have Amazon to contend with. With the Tabeo, Toys “R” Us leaps into an already crowded pool of tablets designed for children. In fact, Toys “R” Us already sells the Vinci Tab II and the Kurio 7, two other 7-inch, kid-friendly Android tablets that can't keep up. Consumers remain confused about Android devices, and that confusion is just fuel on the fire for Apple, which commanded a hefty 68% of tablet market in Q2. If the rumored iPad Mini materializes, even major 7-inch tablet manufacturers like Samsung, Google, and Amazon will have a steeper uphill battle in front of them.
Amazon Gets It
With the refresh to its Kindle Fire line, Amazon has come through with a long-requested feature: parental controls. The new Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD offer this in the form of Kindle FreeTime, an elegantly implemented system that supports multiple profiles, so parents and kids can share the device without sharing all its content. FreeTime also allows parents to set time limits for different kinds of content on a given profile, so kids might be allowed unlimited access to books but only an hour of videos or apps per day.
Apple’s App Store is well stocked with parent-approved games and educational apps, but it lacks a real way to partition off that content. And considering that the iPad's price starts at more than twice that of the cheapest Kindle Fire, handing a $500 device to a kid is a gamble in more than a few ways. Still, if there's an iPad in the home already, odds are that no one's eyes are wandering toward other, less versatile tablets.
While the idea of tablet designed to suit a child’s needs is appealing, it misses the point altogether. With something as sophisticated as a tablet computer, consumers want to push the bounds of their existing devices toward a dynamic multi-user experience, not find themselves reined in by the hardware in their laps. Amazon gets it. Toys "R" Us doesn't.