Brand awareness can start at infancy. When a child can identify Elmo (whether on public television, a box of crackers or on his diapers), the marketing department of Sesame Street has successfully initiated a relationship with that child that will last a lifetime. Due to Apple’s iPad dominating the tablet market (in Q2 2012, Apple shipped 17 million units while Samsung, its closest competitor, shipped 2.3 million) many kids refer to all tablets as iPads – the way people call tissues Kleenex or a cotton swab a Q-Tip. That would seem to be a win for Apple, but the company wants its real boots on the ground. It aggressively markets iPads to K-12 schools and libraries via the philanthropic-sounding programs (or marketing campaigns) like “iPads in the Library.” The child’s mind is a critical space in marketing: brands like LeapPad and InnoTab, and newer entries Lexibook, Kurio, Meep are producing smaller, colorful and ostensibly more durable tablets targeting the 6-12 year demographic and marketing them as “educational and entertainment devices.” (All three are preloaded with popular games like Fruit Ninja and Angry Birds, available at Toys “R” Us for $149 each.) These companies want to arrive early in kid consciousness too, and hope there aren’t too many Apple-only snobs in first and second grades.
There’s growing sentiment—industry-influenced and easy to believe—that the tablet is an undeniably helpful tool in educating young children. Empirical research, however, doesn’t yet support this. Many educators and librarians believe that tablets are fun to use, therefore reluctant readers—like children—are encouraged by a tablet’s entertainment aspect to read more. This group points to a recent Harris Interactive survey which found that (adult) e-reader owners buy and read more books than consumers who don’t own e-readers. (But wouldn’t people who read be more apt to buy one? Just saying.) Beyond reading though, influential people now believe that playing a game today on a tablet is educational in a way that maneuvering a joystick on an old Pac Man machine was not. At the height of Pac Man fever in the mid-80s, warnings abounded that playing video games had a negative correlation with academic performance. Then and now, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children not spend more than one to two hours per day in front of any electronic screen, including TV, DVDs, video games (handheld, console, or computer), and/or computers (for non-academic use). This means 7-14 hours per week total. It’s hard to take a doctor’s advice. The average school-age child currently spends more than 37 hours a week in front of a screen.