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Kids computers: Do they really want half a machine?

by David Mercer | Aug 22, 2008

I thought I'd share a personal angle on an industry issue that's grabbing the home PC sector's attention right now. It was sparked by a meeting yesterday with Zoostorm, a UK PC manufacturer, which is launching its range of children's laptops under the Fizzbook brand. Based on Intel's Atom processor, running Windows, and with choices of 7" or 8.9" displays, Fizzbooks will be available in UK stores from next month at £199 and £269 price points. The company expects to sell 70,000 units in the pre-Christmas period. To quote Zoostorm's Sion Roberts: "The Fizzbook is the type of product parents can feel good about buying and children actually want. The educational and office software with the Fizzbook make it a great aid to learning and development, but the excellent general computing capabilities make it perfect for surfing the internet, playing games or watching movies." As the parent of a child slap bang in the middle of Zoostorm's target 6-14 market, I beg to differ. Fizzbooks' snazzy design may appeal to some kids on the surface, and I'm sure Zoostorm will sell plenty of units to parents and indeed grandparents who like to feel they haven't wasted their money on frivolous gadgets. My fear is that these good intentions may turn to disappointment on all sides once their kids realise they have been given what is basically half a machine. Based on my experience of my own and many other children, the one thing kids want to do with the family PC is play games. And not just any old Flash-based browser nonsense either: they want the latest and greatest games that arrive on DVDs (Fizzbooks have no optical drive), need the latest processors and require GBs of hard disk drive storage before they even get going. I'm thinking in particular of EA's The Sims 2, whose arrival in my household three years ago necessitated the purchase of an expensive new laptop with a dedicated graphics card that copes, just about, with the demands of the latest 3D games. I'm currently in the market for a "kids laptop", but I still don't quite know what one of those is. PC World, the UK's largest high street computer retailer, offers its own label range of Kids Laptops. They have a nice range of colours and designs, which I know will appeal to its intended audience. But in response to my email (albeit five days later), I received the following information: "Having searched on our system, I can confirm that Kids laptops will support T&L applications but I would not advise you to use the laptop for games." T&L refers to "Transform and Lighting", which some graphics cards are compatible with and which enables the more sophisticated 3D environments to be rendered successfully. Sims 2 is one game that demands this capability, and it is very difficult to discover which laptops, never mind "kids laptops", have it. From PC World's response, I assume they think the CPU and other PC components in their kids laptops are not up to the job. I'll break the news to my daughter gently... The Fizzbook and its rivals aimed at the kids market are repeating a mistake so often made by technology companies aiming devices at children: they regular products aren't suited to kids, for whatever reason. In my experience, this is misguided. In many cases it is children who are much happier coping with the complexity of PCs than their parents, and, in the case of the latest games, driving demand for the latest processors and graphics cards. Fizzbooks are nicely designed and rugged, and will be bought because of their attractive price points. They may suit the youngest age groups particularly well. But older kids will soon tire of their limitations and yearn for time on "Dad's laptop" so that they can get on with the real job of shooting aliens or building virtual worlds. Either that or their parents will save up an extra £100 or so and buy them a proper laptop in the first place. If you want better insight than I can ever give on the "real" PC and mobile computing space, see the excellent enterprise mobility blog run by my colleague, Philippe Winthrop. Visit us at IBC: Web TV and Virtual Worlds Analyst Breakfast Client Reading: Online Games: Global Market Forecast Add to Technorati Favorites
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