An article on Slate yesterday examined why Leapfrog's Fly Pentop Computer is one of the most popular products this season. I found this article particularly interesting because the Fly is an educational toy that was designed for kids in the 8-14 age range, reminiscent of the products we had to design in CMS.610 for kids in the 5-7 age range.
The Fly is basically a pen, "albeit one designed by Reebok," states the article.
"It's got a battery, a computer brain, a software cartridge, a loudspeaker, and a headphone jack, all camouflaged by its rubber-gripped fatboy casing. You don't dock the Fly with your PC, nor do you download software for it, squint at a screen, or fiddle with pop-up menus. This is one gadget that makes you do most of the work."
Among the programs offered by the Fly are a calculator, a music keyboard and drum machine, a planner, and a baseball game, each facilitated by the Fly's tiny camera that can determine what the user is writing or pointing at (when using the special "Fly paper" that comes with the pen). Extra programs, like Spanish and math "tutorware" can be purchased as separate cartridges. The pen talks as you write, giving instructions and encouragement.
Like the products we designed, the Fly takes established hardware and expands the concept, building a new toy around an old one. According to the article, this is a big reason why the Fly is so popular right now - because the interface is so familiar, "it's as nonthreatening as a gadget can get."