When LeapFrog finally showed their much-anticipated tablet for kids off a few weeks ago, they warned the press that the LeapPad was going to be hot and consumers might have a hard time finding it come the holiday season. This prediction turned out to be true, as the company announced yesterday that pre-orders through retail partners are sold out. This is even before the LeapPad actually hit store shelves. Parents who want to get their hands on this tablet for kids will have to wait for August when the device actually starts shipping.
Like VTech's InnoTab (formerly known as the InnoPad), the LeapPad is aimed at parents as much as at kids. It trades on the current tablet craze while not perfectly emulating the tablets you'll see in the local Apple store or Best Buy. After all, those tablets weren't designed for kids even if youngsters can pick up on how to use them quickly and app makers are falling over themselves to create content for the short set. In the kid tablet space you're not going to find glossy hi-res displays, capacitive touch, or even an expansive 9 - 10 inches. What you will find is familiar user interfaces and a new app-centric sensibility. Are these enough to tempt kids away from mom's Galaxy Tab?
When I interviewed parents for our piece on How Young Is Too Young For An iPad?, a couple of them said that in addition to letting kids play with their tablet or smartphone, they also have products from VTech, LeapFrog, and other edu-toy manufacturers. Some kids were happy to play with both, but one parent said that her kids preferred the iPad because they could tell it has a better quality screen.
The LeapPad and InnoTab both sport 5-inch TFT displays with 480 x 272 pixel resolutions. They also use resistive touchscreen technology, not capacitive. This makes sense when you're building a kid-centric device and trying to keep costs down ($99 for the LeapPad; $79 for the InnoTab). What marks these tablets as being for kids more than anything else is how bulky they are in comparison to their screen size. Each has a footprint similar to that of a 10-inch tablet but are certainly thicker with chunky buttons and toyetic colors. All this extra "padding" is there to make the tablets safe for kids, of course, but even the young appreciate slick industrial design.
On the plus side, both LeapFrog and VTech know what it takes to keep kids entertained while still helping grow their brains. Parents who choose to keep their iPads to themselves don't have to feel guilty. The LeapPad and InnoTab have access to plenty of games, eBooks, and other content for kids. And they're not likely to find surprise Smurf Village charges on their credit card if they leave a 7 year old alone with them.
The LeapFrog LeapPad will be available in stores on August 15th. If you weren't among the pre-order crowd, start planning to grab one now. By the time the holidays roll around, they may well and truly be gone. VTech's InnoTab will be out this fall, though no specific on sale date has been announced. Which one is better? We hope to get them both in to put them to the test.