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Many parents worry about giving their children an electronic device of their own at too young an age, but we also want to be able to communicate with our children regularly when we’re not with them. If you work away from home or have relatives who live far away you’ll know how important that communication can be for everyone involved.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that access to media devices for children is balanced by other activities including face-to-face social interaction, physical activity and exploring through play. Whilst that might all sound like common sense, allowing children unlimited access to tablets and smartphones can lead to the lack of social development and children literally becoming addicted to surfing the internet.

Luckily, a new type of device called a Talkie has been developed by the company Toymail. The aim of Talkie is to bring us a new and safe form of communication for young children that doesn’t involve any screen time. The creators, Gauri Nanda and Audry Hill wanted to design something that allows children to voice chat with others, but doesn’t involve letting your children loose with your phone, or worrying about excessive amounts of screen time.

Talkies look like any other cute, cuddly toy but inside their appealing exterior lies some pretty clever technology. Talkies contain a simple messaging device which connects to a Wi-Fi network and allows its child owner to send and receive voice messages from a range of contacts.

Talkies come in a variety of appealing designs including a unicorn, dinosaur and shark so you’re bound to find one that will suit your little one. You can unzip the Talkie to wash the toy, or even buy a new ‘skin’ to provide a new character as your child’s tastes change. They’re also very easy and intuitive to use, with just two buttons on the back. The first button is used to scroll through and select a contact, the second to record and send a message to the chosen person. Through the associated app, parents have control over who their children can send and receive messages from. Talkies can send messages to friends or siblings who also have Talkie toys, or they can send messages to your smartphone, too. When there’s an incoming message, the Talkie plays a sound before playing the message back.

The founders aim to increase those tiny snippets of conversation with relevant family members which might seem inconsequential at the time, but soon add up. So, grandparents who live thousands of miles away can simply say good morning to their beloved grandchild without having to organize a good time to Skype, or children with parents in the military or working overseas can send them a message whenever they like and wait with anticipation to receive one back.

There has also been a significant amount of interest in Talkie from industry leaders. The team have received backing and funding from Verizon and the Alexa Fund from Amazon. The idea is that children will be able to Google, stream content and chat, all in a safe and screen free environment using their Talkie as an Amazon Echo device. The company have just been featured on ABC’s ‘Shark Tank’ and gained a $600,000 co-investment from Lori Griener and Chris Sacca.

The creators of Toymail have also just launched the Toymail Cloud, which provides enhanced features that their current users have asked for. Talkie features can be expanded by downloading content from this app. These add-ons include ‘Jumpie’, an accelerometer based feature which sends parents a push notification when the Talkie has been picked up, allowing them to know when it’s a good time to send a message to the child. This add-on also allows the Talkie to respond to physical play and it will giggle and talk when moved. Also available is ‘Remindie’ which acts as an audio calendar, giving children a gentle nudge when it’s time to brush their teeth or do their homework. ‘Sleepie’ acts as a bedtime companion and will help your little one to drop off to sleep.

The designers have clearly put a lot of effort and thought into the design, with clever features like a time schedule to check for messages, so you don’t have to worry about your child being woken in the night by a message from someone in a different timezone.

The engagement of children with their Talkie toys has been encouraging, with Nanda mentioning “that for every message a parent was sending to a child a child would send about four messages back.” Retailing at $60, Talkies provide a simple and safe messaging system

Talkies take inspiration from the walkie-talkies many of us loved when we were smaller, the difference being that Talkies can communicate no matter the distance, with a wider range of people, all at the touch of a button.

Top image: Talkies By Toymail (d-a-d.co.uk)

References

https://toymail.co/

https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/Media/Pages/Tips-for-Parents-Digital-Age.aspx

http://www.indiawest.com/news/business/indian-american-led-toymail-lands-k-on-shark-tank/article_6208d86a-f948-11e6-b34f-7f39efc62fb6.html

https://techcrunch.com/2016/03/16/toymail-is-reimagining-the-mobile-phone-for-kids/

https://techcrunch.com/2017/02/22/toymail-adds-an-app-store-for-its-cuddly-mobiles-for-kids/

https://www.wired.com/2013/11/toymail

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Emma Stenhouse, MSc

Emma qualified with a BSc (Hons) in Equine Science in 2003 and has had a passion for horses since a young age. She continued her academic career with an MSc in Applied Marine Science, gained in 2004. Emma’s main scientific focus was the navigational techniques of sea turtles and whether they use the acoustics of the surf-zone as a cue for nesting. She then worked for a sea turtle conservation project on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica before travelling to New Zealand where she worked as a Mari...Read More

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