Tuesday, 14 January 2014

10 Kids' Tech Trends for 2014

Where is technology for kids heading in 2014? We've had a preview of some of the children's technology that we'll be seeing this year at the CES industry conference. Last year we saw lots of kids getting tablets and tech-toys dominating the hot toys for the holidays. What does 2014 have in store for families and children?

  1. Bigger tablets replacing laptops and personal TVs in kids' bedrooms. We've mentioned the upcoming Nabi DreamTab 12" children's tablet. Larger tablets make a lot of sense. We've been using an early 13" tablet and can see the potential. With the right spec and apps a bigger tablet can be used for homework and watching movies. There's no need for kids to have a separate laptop or netbook (though an add-on physical keyboard can be helpful.) And do you really need to buy an additional TV for their bedroom when a big tablet will do the trick?
  2. Voice recognition and Gesture Control. We've started to see voice recognition and gesture control appearing in technology for kids and there will be more of it this year as the technology improves. These new ways of interacting with tech will become natural to kids just as the touch interface has. My boys are very much looking forward to getting their SuperToy talking teddy bear. And the new WowWee MiP robot will use gesture control.
  3. Health Monitoring. We'll be seeing a lot more health-monitoring gadgets for infants and babies this year. In 2014 we'll be seeing more devices that have multiple functions so that you don't need several difference gadgets and apps to get the full picture. It's a common joke that babies should come with a manual! We'll at least we'll have a better chance of reading the signals. Fitness tracking gadgets were popular with adults last year and I think we'll see more focus of children this year. 
  4. Phones for Kids.  Kid-specific tablets have been a big success. We'll see more kid-specific phones this year. This will include kid versions of phones like the Kurio Kids phone which have parental control, and also wearable limited-feature phones like the Filip which offer safety features and limited communication with specified carers.
  5. Home automation and Life Management. Home automation is becoming increasingly mainstream and naturally this will extend to families. You'll be able to monitor the temperature of a babies bedroom and have lights come on to wake them up gently. The Mother gadget uses cookies that can monitor kids tooth brushing.
  6. Coding and Robotics. The trend for kids to learn to code will continue. One of the most effective ways of motivating kids is allowing them to control a physical system like a robot. LEGO Mindstorms EV3 is now available. I'd love to see mainstream electronic toys allowing programming rather than just control from apps.
  7. Social Media and Online Safety. We've seen high-profile occurrences of cyber-bullying and other online safety concerns. I think we'll see some progress in this area this year, but not enough. Service providers need to do more to make sure that children only have access to age-appropriate services and that age-appropriate services are provided.
  8. Parental Controls and Kid-Specific Media. We'll see more services like Netflix for Kids and Kindle Freetime Unlimited that focus on offering age-appropriate media to children. I'd like to be able to limit kids to being able to search only kid-friendly material from online retailers for example. And we really need a proper YouTube for kids rather than just restricting it to over 13s. Again I think we'll see some progress here, but not enough. 
  9. Tablet/Phone Accessories and App Toys. Lots of kids now have a tablet. Accessories and toys that make use of the tablet will continue to be popular. I think we'll see more musical instruments and educational add-ons that make use of a tablet. And we'll see more digital / physical toys like Skylanders and Angry Birds Telepods. We'll see toys that reinstate traditional play patterns, but with added tech, and toys that specifically encourage physical activity.
  10. Tech Skills at School. We've seen tablets and IT education making their way into schools so that tech resources are used in education and kids are able to use IT. Next, we need to make sure kids are getting an education that will help them develop the tech of the future and be effective in a world where technology is everywhere. Initiatives like the Hour of Code are good at raising awareness and the Raspberry Pi has gained attention. This year there should be more focus on getting these skills into the syllabus. For example a new Computing curriculum will be taught to primary school children in the UK.
As for adults, some of these trends tie in with the themes of wearable computing and the internet of things (where many small devices become connected.) As well as the physical and digital technology development we need to be thinking about safety and privacy concerns that are different for children.

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