Last February we posted an article on our blog outlining our expectations for the kids’ digital sphere in 2017.

One year later, we’ve put together some thoughts on what we saw in the kids’ space in 2017, and we could expect to see over the next 12 months – from emerging technologies and concerns in security, to a shift in the way we think about kids as consumers.

Teaching empathy

As we move further into the world of digital and artificial intelligence, it’s more important than ever to get a grip on true human emotions and experiences. We’re starting to see products emerge that aim to capture the importance of empathy, kindness, and communication, for generations that will grow up in a world where we communicate with each other through pixels on devices and interact with the devices themselves, as humanoid responses mimic those of a real person.

Tinybop produced ‘Me’, a diary app for children that allows its users to write about themselves, their family, and their day-to-day thoughts and recollections; the intention of the app was to encourage self-reflection and empathy. And then there was Cozmo, a small AI robot and app with a reported 1,600 programmed emotions and movements, designed to teach its young audience empathy.

Perhaps this is counter intuitive – will humans learning empathy from robots create a generation of sociopaths? Interesting, nonetheless.

Mindfulness and stress management

With mobiles and tablets in most homes, television streaming, and an app for everything, it’s no wonder that children are becoming agitated, fatigued, and dependant on their electronic devices. In response, we’re noticing a growing trend of apps and games targeting unoccupied play as a method of mindful activity and stress management. Unoccupied play removes traditional gaming metrics (goals, missions, high scores) to leave an open and relaxed environment for users to experience.

There are numerous digital answers to the ‘mindful colouring’ craze, as well as games like ‘Toca Life: Office’, which allows kids to play around in a virtual office space without the pressure to follow a predetermined storyline or play for x amount of time.

What we’re seeing – and what we’ll continue to see – is digital trying to be the solution to its own problems.

Digital vs. reality

With virtual and mixed reality devices still just out of reach for most families (whether because of the price barriers, heavy headsets, or console compatibility), augmented reality has a window in which to grow as an accessible technology for parents and children.

Furthermore, AR can help bridge the gap between the digital and real world, bringing the digitally inclined out of the house in what we might think of as the ‘Pokémon Go effect’.

Magic Light’s ‘Gruffalo Spotter’ encouraged users to explore the Woodland Trust, pointing their phone at symbols for a Gruffalo to pop up. As low-cost tech, this has the potential to be further developed as an educational tool, offering an opportunity for personalised education.

In a similar vein, apps like Expeditions for Google Cardboard are clearing the path for accessible and educational VR. Using the app, kids can explore Machu Picchu, Antarctica, and the International Space Station using a mobile phone and cardboard – an experience easily transferable to classroom learning.

Branching narratives and interactive storytelling

With storytelling chatbots and conversation-based games, we’re seeing many digital takes on the ‘choose your own adventure’ phenomenon that most of us will remember existing in the form of a well-thumbed paperback.

The BBC recently released The Inspection Chamber, an interactive narrative that utilised smart speakers. Then there’s The Magic Door, an ‘Alexa-powered interactive adventure game’. The smart speaker plays atmospheric soundscapes for users to imagine following a forest path or opening a creaking door, while a speaker offers choices such as left/right, or open/close the door. These forms of interactive entertainment are successful in taking kids off the apps and tablets and back into their imaginations.

Fuelling creativity

Technology is naturally great at drawing out the creativity of its users – with GarageBand, for example, you can have a recording studio in your back pocket. With the abstraction of complexity, these products can evolve beyond what we’d consider a ‘gimmick’, leaving us with hardware and software that adds true value to our lives.

As the starting age for tech users gets younger and younger, many apps and tools have emerged to cater to this new demographic and put kids in the creative hot seat. Following on from the ‘do-it-yourself’ philosophy with games like Minecraft, we’re now seeing everything from Lomics, a live-comic building app, to Electro Dough, a techy take on Play-Doh designed to get kids interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

What’s next?

We’re expecting a continuation of the trend that seeks to bring kids gaming off-screen, with more smart speaker interactivities – not to mention the highly-anticipated Nintendo Labo set to be released later this year. As we stop viewing children as passive consumers, we’d like to see 2018 be dominated by technology that goes further with storytelling, narrative, and encouraging real-world experience.

Developers of kids’ tech need to consider the generation of consumers that they’re helping to raise. There needs to be increased effort in bringing positive values to the front of children’s digital products, to create technology with purpose.

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This blog post was adapted from a presentation given by Jollywise MD Jon Mason at the British Screen Advisory Council’s November meeting.

Posted February 13th 2018
Steph Rathbone
Steph is Jollywise's Content Coordinator and resident bookworm.