Smartwatches for children hold a lot of allure and at least one analysis firm believes they will help drive the smartwatch market to 373 million devices shipped in 2020, up from 15 million this year. Kids get a shiny new gadget, while anxious parents get location trackers and activity monitors to keep tabs on their offspring. Children’s smartwatches, however, suffer from the same problem that other toys do: the very short attention spans of their target market.
A Taipei-based hardware startup called JoyRay wants to create a smartwatch for kids that won’t end up abandoned like the Velveteen Rabbit. Founder and CEO Jerry Chang, who was division head of Foxconn’s smartphone business before leaving last December, believes the key to creating a kids’ smartwatch with enduring appeal is to provide an open SDK and release new apps by JoyRay and third-party developers every month. Called Jumpy, JoyRay’s smartwatch is designed for kids aged five to eight and Android and iOS compatible. It has a host of features software developers can play with, including a detachable watch head, gyroscope, gesture and voice recognition, and Bluetooth connectivity.
Jumpy is currently on Kickstarter, where it has raised about half of the $100,000 it wants to reach by December 18. The smartwatch’s Kickstarter price is $99 and it is scheduled to ship in March, a goal Chang is confident it can reach because Jumpy has a working prototype (which I saw demoed at JoyRay’s office) and a manufacturing partnership with Foxconn.
One of the reasons I like Jumpy is because its creators are eager to make sure children use the smartwatch to interact with their parents and the world around them, instead of just staring at its screen. For example, JoyRay is currently working on an app that will allow kids to control Sphero, a Bluetooth-connected ball, by waving their hands around. The smartwatch will be shipped with an activity monitor app that features a cartoon dog named Chubby who reminds kids to move around and drink enough water.
While at Foxconn, Chang, who has two young children, brought home one of the original equipment manufacturing giant’s smartwatch prototypes. His son was enthralled and wanted to bring it to school to show off to his classmates.
“I had to tell him, sorry, this is just for adults, not kids, but it made me realize how much smartwatches resonate with children,” says Chang.
JoyRay’s team includes co-founder and developer David Liu, who is in charge of overseeing the apps Jumpy will come preloaded with, as well as its future releases. Liu’s own startup, LND Games, created Color Band, a nifty motion-sensor based iOS app that teaches children about color and music theory. Color Band was profiled by TechCrunch last year and later featured by the App Store.
Jumpy features a larger screen (1.6-inches square) than most of its competitors and the watch head can detach from its silicon band. This allows it to be used as a controller in other games or attached to other devices. In the works is an educational app for tablets that is like an updated version of Operation. The app features a drawing of a human body that reveals organs and bones when Jumpy’s watch head is passed over it like an X-ray.
Jumpy’s watch head can also be incorporated into other devices. As a stretch goal for its Kickstarter campaign, JoyRay is currently working on a charger that is shaped like a robot or dog. When inserted, Jumpy’s watch head becomes the toy’s face, giving kids yet another way to interact with it.
Chang says he learned from the relatively limited functionality of competing products like Leapband, an activity monitor for children.
“It’s supposed to encourage them to be more active, but if you read reviews on Amazon and other sites, you see parents saying that while their kids were really excited at first, they were bored by it within a couple of weeks. So when we started developing Jumpy, we wanted it to be open platform. We have our own team of app developers and are also partnering with third-party developers to focus on educational, exercise, and entertainment apps.”
When Jumpy ships, it will come with about eight to 10 apps, including games, an exercise reminder and monitor, a location tracker, and a messaging app that sends emojis or voice messages to smartphones and other Jumpys. Data is uploaded through wifi to the cloud so parents can monitor their kids’ activities on an iPad app.
After that, JoyRay plans to release new apps on a monthly basis, including gesture-based games, storytelling apps, and language-learning tools. It also plans to integrate Jumpy with connected toys, like Sphero, that have open SDKs.
“As we talk to consumers, we will keep adding new functions and games. We believe that Jumpy has a lot more possibilities beyond other kids’ smartwatches,” says Chang. While Jumpy’s competitors already include Filip, Kidizoom, the aforementioned Leapband, as well as a host of GPS and activity trackers, Chang believes Jumpy’s open platform, larger screen, and detachable watch head will allow it to stand out in what is sure to be an increasingly crowded market.
For more information about Jumpy, check out its Kickstarter page.