Report – Fresh Kids Tech
In this session, Stuart Dredge gave the audience an entertaining whistle-stop tour of the latest tech trends in the kids’ space. Stuart explained that his talk was definitely not intended to evangelise about tech – and that while there is much to be excited about, some developments are cause for concern too.
- Even within big tech companies, pockets exist of people who care and seek to do ‘good stuff’ for the kids audience.
- Tech is capable of more than just entertainment. It can positively impact on kids lives in all manner of ways.
- There are still discussions to be had about issues surrounding kids privacy and the tracking of their data.
Starting with Augmented Reality, we heard about the many established brands exploring AR. The obvious example being the Pokemon Go, which continues to make $50M a month and add new features. The Harry Potter universe has recently joined the AR trend, as have Ghostbusters, Minecraft, Moomins and The Wiggles. AR is being used to teach code, enhance books, and provide much needed balance in male-centric history books.
Moving on to Virtual Reality, innovative VR experiences have been produced by the BBC, Nintendo and National Geographic. VR has even been used to create immersive theatrical entertainment with apps such as ‘Hamlet 360′.
Talking about voice controlled tech experiences like Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home, it’s clear that kids really love voice controlled devices. However, debate remains about kids’ personal information being tracked and stored. Other interesting uses for voice control are a Google-Disney initiative which sees parent-read stories being enhanced by sound effects and music. Choose Your Own Adventure stories from the 80s are also finding a new life on smart speakers. And we heard about Apple aquiring the company behind the interactive ‘Hello Barbie’ doll. It remains to be seen what they do with that technology.
Moving on to Fortnite, the stats behind the game prove that Fortnite is no longer ‘just’ a game. It is a major media brand with major partnerships like Avengers: Endgame, John Wick, Stranger Things and the musician Marshmello. Fortnite’s publisher – Epic Games – now also owns Rocket League, another hugely popular online game, making them a kids’ media brand owner.
Discussing “Kids As Game Makers”, we heard about kids making games for themselves using platforms like Roblox and Dreams, and about how Sony has been running workshops with Girls Make Games to encourage girls into game creation. A Raspberry Pi magazine, ‘Wireframe’, seeks to demystify games development for all kids.
On ther topic of STEM and coding, we heard about Sesame Workshop’s new coding show for the upcoming Apple+ service. Disney and Little Bits are working on affordable coding kits for kids, along with a coding initiative called Snap The Gap for 15000 girls. Brands such as Harry Potter, Star Wars and Lego are exploring coding for kids too.
YouTube has been working hard to turn around a year of bad press by deploying their YouTube Learning initiative, with a little help from Dolly Parton. Other major brands, like Star Wars, have created specific YouTube content for kids. Even Hello Kitty has turned her hand to YouTube vlogging.
The issue of Screen Time is a big topic this year, with Google and Apple creating apps to help track our – and our children’s – usage (although kids are already finding ways to hack these!) It’s interesting that Sky Broadband are marketing themselves on how easy it is to turn their internet services off! ‘Pokemon Sleep’ is a game that seeks to encourage good sleeping habits.
Tech is not shy of tacking big, emotive subjects with initiatives existing to explore issues such as charitable giving, emotional support and the reporting of abuse. These initiatives don’t seek to be the next Angry Birds, but to help kids get the life support they need in innovative ways.
Returning to the topic of Virtual Reality, we saw a clip from ‘Child Of The Earth’, a film about Kevin, a boy with advanced cystic fibrosis. VR was able to provide Kevin with the magical experience of being an astronaut on a space station. A unquestionable example of tech being used for good.
Finally we heard about a browser-based museum initiative from The Science Museum. ‘Petit Bambou’, a french meditation app for kids with 3 million users. ‘Fabled’, a storytelling app designed to encourage kids to create their own stories. And new gaming platforms appearing in unlikely places, like Snapchat!
Where do things go from here? Perhaps to Synthetic Reality, with a new generation of computer generated kids’ idols. We already have Miquela, a virtual influencer with millions of followers. Is this terrifying or exciting? We’ll have to wait and see.