Published February 21, 2014
Given the wealth of free and inexpensive kids apps available on mobile devices, it's only natural that today's toddlers are growing up with touchscreens. But could mobile tech replace the traditional toy? According to a recent survey, the answer is yes.
Media research firm The Michael Cohen Group (MCG) released the results of its recent nationwide survey, which polled 350 parents about the play habits of their children 12 and younger. Touchscreen devices got the most overall playtime according to the poll, with more than 60 percent of parents claiming that their child uses a touchscreen "often" and roughly 38 percent claiming "very often."
Touchscreens beat out kids toys that have been around for decades, such as dolls and action figures, arts and crafts, and construction-based toys, all of which had a roughly 50 percent usage rate on the poll. Gaming consoles had a usage rate of a bit less than 50 percent, with other children's staples such as vehicles, puzzles, and board games landing closer to 40 percent.
Given these stats, is it safe to call a touchscreen a toy? The MCG poll reveals that 10 percent of parents "always" consider touch devices as playthings, while 58 percent considered them "sometimes" toys. The remaining 32 percent claimed that mobile devices should never be put in the same category as physical play products.
When it comes to content, 53 percent of parents claimed their kids played educational games. Half of parents noted that their little ones veered toward music-based apps, while 49 percent reported "free play" games with no discrete educational value.
The popularity of touch devices among children was evident at Toy Fair 2014, but it doesn't mean the physical toy is dead. Products like Digipuppets and Tiggly provide classic playthings such as finger puppets and shape toys, which can interact with touchscreens and include their own proprietary app. Popular mobile titles like "Angry Birds" have spawned their own physical toys called Telepods, which can attach to your smartphone or tablet to add more characters to the game.
Whether a touchscreen is actually a toy is up for debate, but the two product types are becoming more closely aligned than ever. Just make sure that before you hand off your phone or tablet, you set up parental controls and wrap it in a rugged case.