Amazon has taken a different tack with its Echo devices, releasing an Echo Dot Kids edition aimed at family householders. The new Echo also comes with a subscription to a library of children’s audiobooks, a range of voice apps from brands such as Disney and Nickelodeon, and ad-free kids playlists. The most crucial updates are those that target usage and behaviour, however, and the voice software can now include features that encourage children to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ when making a request, and let parents set limits on individual children’s usage.
Was Mattel right to pull out entirely, or is Amazon’s ‘fail better’ approach of release and respond more sensible? In this case, with technology whose behavioural interactions can only really be understood in the real world, but whose benefits are clear, I’d suggest the latter. The interest in this form of interface is not going to subside, and will have an impact on all markets, including toys. In truth, the argument for championing conversation-based play and learning over yet more screen time shouldn’t be hard to make. As Marika Lindholm, sociologist and founder of ESME, a site for single mums, explains: ‘If you watch a kid with the smartphone, all the bells and whistles are just so seductive and addictive. With the Echo or the Home, there is the opportunity for much more listening and interaction.’ Indeed, according to research by Childwise, 42% of children in the UK aged between nine and 16 already use voice recognition gadgets at home. Mattel had an opportunity to be a leader in this area, but failed to mount a successful defence of its ability to both innovate in the market and to do so within a moral framework.
For more on how brands can combine innovation with morally sound business models, read our Mortality Recoded macrotrend.