Tuesday, June 28, 2011

My love-hate affair with Leapfrog

A friend sent me this article about a new product announcement from Leapfrog: http://nyti.ms/jn1nRH It's basically an iPad replacement for kids 5 through 9 and there's a lot of buzz on the web about the rebirth of Leapfrog.

Here's my take on it -

I am a big Leapfrog fan, and own a stable of leapfrog devices personally. I love their toys, yet am very hesitant to purchase this one. I hate a couple of things about Leapfrog.

First, their product roadmap seems to be very poorly thought out. They obsolete their own hardware for no immediately apparent reason, and don't seem to necessarily believe in backward compatibility. I have multiple generations of the Leapster as well as the Leap pad, and each time ended up shelling out money for the next generation of hardware because the add-on cartridges sold in stores with the movie character de jour would not work with the generation of hardware I had. I have grown to absolutely detest this practice.

Second, with this new iPad replacement, I am even more skeptical than usual, because at a $99 price point for a device which boasts a durable (I hope!) 5 inch color screen, 2 GBs of memory and a video camera, the cost of their bill of materials is very high and profit margins are very slim, if any. Till these things start selling at volume, there isn't any economy of scale to reduce manufacturing costs. Between this and the fact they've chosen to not open the platform to third party developers, I suspect their business model is going to be the same as shaving razors. They are planning to charge parents a steep price for each application that will work on the platform, and/or they're going to enable "social" features a la Club Penguin down the line, perhaps in a model with Wi-Fi capability, iPad style.

Third, as yet another leapfrog product, there is no guarantee that this toy will be supported over any length of time.

If they had allowed third party developers on the platform, I might have had a little more faith in the longevity of this new widget. The other reason third party developers may have changed my stance is that with a open marketplace, the best app will have a shot at winning. I am a big believer in the market setting the price for educational content, as opposed to the manufacturer of the hardware platform that supports the content. This has the built-in benefit of vetting content for quality, and consumers will vote with their wallet.

Even a company such as Apple that seems to have mastered the art of creating desirable hardware and software which sells at premium prices has opened up their platform to third party developers as opposed to using the i-devices as a channel for strictly Apple created software, and that's telling. There is a big (dare I say bigger and better?) business in crowd sourcing content.

What do you think? Would you buy this gadget for your child?

No comments: