Toy Phones for Kids? (Bluetooth enabled)

Dear Ms. Smartphone: I am a regular reader of this column and came about this when I was shopping for a baby gift. Both online and in the toy departments, there were lots of toy phones for sale. They were colorful, made sounds, and flashed lights. As a new Dad I don’t have experience with kid’s toys, and particularly toy phones for kids, so is this a good gift? T.C. San Mateo

From Fisher-Price toys. Their kiddie Chatter phone with the receiver in mid air.
Toy Phones for Kids? Fisher-Price Chatter Phone.

Dear T.C.: Thanks for reading and prompting me to do my own shopping! Toys serve lots of functions:  they keep children occupied and busy and help them try out new roles and experiences. They also help everyone, even adults, anticipate the future. Holiday shopping for kids used to be dolls, ponies, and trucks, yes? Today’s toys are different, e.g., pals that read aloud, musical blocks that detect patterns and number recognition, and remote control puppy dogs.

It seems like everything is speeding up when it comes to tech. Babies growing up today are more likely to be wearing smart clothing and headgear and less likely to be holding phones in their hand when they come of age.  Say your baby is just one year old now. In nine years, probably sooner, they will clamor for their own ‘real’ connected device. If this same baby gets a set of toy plastic car keys, there’s a space of fifteen years before they can get a driver’s license. Of course, we might have a few autonomous vehicles on the road by then. 

Researching your question, I discovered that one phone, the iconic Fisher Price Chatter Phone, is still on the market, along with all those make-believe, light-up flip phones for babies. Of course the Chatter Phone was, and still is, a rotary phone. The Chatter Phone has no screen, but interacts through toy ‘eyes’ and ‘mouth’ that move up and down with movement. Historically, some kids never picked up the receiver, and preferred to use the long cord to walk the phone back and forth, like leading a dog on a leash. From the 3000+ Amazon reviews, I gather that recent Chatter Phones have a shorter and safer pull string so modern day kids don’t get tangled up or worse.

The Chatter Phone got its limelight moment in the Pixar movie Toy Story 3. But wait, there’s a bigger media moment to come!

PHONE Anniversary Issue!

This year Fisher-Price, the manufacturer of the Chatter Phone, has introduced a 60 year anniversary edition . . . for adults! The anniversary version does all the usual things- it rolls on wheels, has eyes that move up and down, and a full rotary dial. But the phone is also Bluetooth enabled and has a built-in micro USB slot. No need to remember that because the owner’s manual says it has nine hours of talk time, 72 hours of standby service. 

Bluetooth is the linkage here between parent and child, or baby-minder and child. Shades of object-oriented programming, the Chatter child phone inherits its signal (aka, class) from the parent phone. So, they both need to be proximate, within 15 feet.  The adult parent phone cannot wander afar and leave unsupervised communications! Think of it as a walkie-talkie on wheels!

Phone CleveR, PHONE Dumbfound:

In some ways I find this clever, and in other ways, I am dumbfounded how this simple toy morphed into a grown-up concept. A couple of years ago, Fisher-Price got into trouble with a different connected device. They designed an attachment for their baby swings that dangled a screen-sized mirror on one side and an I-Pad holder on the reverse. So, an infant nestled into the swing could rock and roll to music or cartoons. The wrath of parents was widely felt and the swing attachment was taken off the market.

It seems doubtful to me that Fisher-Price will land in trouble again with this adult version of the Chatter Phone. With with a mark-up of up to $250. on Amazon (1/2 price elsewhere) it’s unlikely to attract the kids. But, suppose it becomes the next must-have holiday gift? As this amusing video shows, adults might enjoy taking difficult work calls on a non-judgmental smiley happy -face device. Here’s a different scenario: what if the babies who engage with parents on the  Chatter Phone get bored talking to them and prefer to reach out to friends from preschool? Will they demand their next phone, enabled with Bluetooth and WiFi sooner, say at age six or seven, instead of at nine or ten? Thinking out loud, maybe we should stick to those plastic car-keys! Happy holidays. 

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