The future of kids’ technology
Child-focused technology has evolved to better meet the changing needs of children, and examining recent trends can shed light on the most important innovations in 2022 and beyond. Children’s screen recently sat down with tech experts from various industries to find out what’s about to take the world of kidtech by storm.
From eSports mixing with virtual reality, to audio content becoming interactive, it’s an exploration of what’s big now and how it’s about to get even bigger.
eSports are scoring big with kids and the industry that serves them. Teams formed for popular family games like Monitoringproducers stream episodes of their shows on Twitch, and companies like Dubit launch their own gaming competitions through Roblox.
The global audience for online video game competitions was around 474 million in 2021, up from 400 million in 2019, and it could reach 577 million by 2024, according to company data. Statista market research. The esports audience is still a bit niche, with only around 234 million enthusiasts worldwide in 2021. But online gaming competitions are on the rise, and Statista expects that number to climb further. 285 million by 2024.
Next: VR eSports
Combining the competitive nature of eSports with the immersion of virtual reality could be what takes both technologies to the next level. The virtual reality market has grown over the past few years as headsets have become more affordable and families have embraced the technology in greater numbers. The consumer headset market is expected to reach $5 billion by 2023, from $2.6 billion in 2020, according to ABI Research.
eSports has the power to unite fans around brands and teams. Combine this with the potential of VR to create lively locations where competitors can get physical (think an actual obstacle course that becomes a deadly forest for VR players), is a winning recipe for unique new content and exciting.
Once the gap between content creation and VR headset production is closed, VR eSports will take off in a big way, says ryan delk, a former partner at sub-Saharan investment fund Savannah, which has backed successful companies such as biNu telecommunications. Delk has also advised companies like Lyte and Convert Kit, and is CEO of Primer, which builds interest-based communities for students.
“Virtual reality has taken a big leap forward in the last couple of years, and I guess there’s a year to go before it’s on every kid’s Christmas list. Once that happens, I think we’ll see a big acceleration in titles that are popular in competitive gaming and eSports moving to virtual reality.
A metaverse where kids can explore and create their own virtual worlds, games, and brands already exists, it’s called Roblox. The popular sandbox gaming platform is home to over 43 million daily active users.
Kidcos are just beginning to embrace the game for what it is: a co-creation tool where brands can interact with children in a playful way. Companies getting in on the action, including Spin Master and WowWee, are tapping into the ‘maker’ trend of encouraging kids to create their own inventions and toys by letting them create their own worlds and interact with their preferred IP addresses. For example, MGA Entertainment released a Roblox game based on its popular LOL Surprise! brand that allows players to explore the world of dolls with their friends.
The term metaverse has been floating around the industry lately, but the next big thing kidcos need to pay attention to is how kids will create metasocieties, says Emma Chiu, global director of trend research firm Wunderman Thompson Intelligence. Chiu led a report on the metaverse in 2021, and his annual prediction list (The Future 100) has been featured in publications like Vogue and The Telegraph.
Metasocieties are communities that social problem-oriented children will create themselves within the metaverse. The idea is that kids want to bring their online personality, interests and networks with them to reflect their personal values. As the metaverse grows (and more and more tech companies become “metaverse companies”), Gen Z and Gen Alpha digital natives will strive to bring identical versions of themselves – with their values and missions – on existing platforms like Roblox, and also in new digital hangouts. Kids won’t just join new virtual worlds; they will help shape them by championing their favorite social causes, such as diversity and environmentalism.
As kids embrace the metaverse to create their own communities, these metasocieties will become the new hubs where kids discuss which IP addresses matter most to them. Beyond just marketing to these communities, brands will need to learn lessons about how to engage children in their passions, and they should think now about how they can help children create safer virtual societies. and, in some ways, better versions. of their real worlds.
“Children’s content will democratize because children around the world will be connected in ways that defy geographic location,” Chiu says. “Their real values will be reflected in these online communities, and as people connect, they will feed and educate each other and build societies from the ground up.
Podcasts were on the rise even before kids were locked inside. But when the pandemic hit, demand for audio-only programming exploded. Today, the market is expected to reach $76 billion by 2028 as families tune in to content that gives kids a break, according to analytics firm Grand View Research. Podcasts fill that need in a big way, so much so that kidcos like Disney, Nickelodeon, and Cartoon Network all created their first kids’ podcasts last year, and PBS KIDS launched a podcast accelerator to develop and launch pilots.
Next: Interactive audio content
But audio shows — which, like TV shows, are passive experiences — have plenty of room to grow. The next big step in podcasting is to become fully interactive. Building content that empowers children to use their words to not only access content, but to co-create, influence and be part of stories, games and experiences is uncharted territory, says Mitch Joel, founder of longtime investment firm Six Pixels Group. Joel is a writer, presenter and consultant who has advised companies such as Google, Walmart and Microsoft on consumer and technology trends.
As voice recognition technology develops, creators can rely on interactive shows like Netflix’s Minecraft: Story Mode to the point where kids can guide the actions of their favorite character with nothing but ‘a word. Amazon began moving into this space in October with audio ads in its Alexa-enabled devices that allow consumers to request more product information.
“Being able to connect to brands without contact can create a smoother experience,” says Joel. “We’re talking about a generation that expects to be able to interact with content, and the most natural way for them to do that is to talk.”
Robots are all the rage in the industry, taking over television in new shows like DreamWorks’ Doug Unplugs and Mondo TV’s Annie & Carola, and hitting toy shelves as products like Digital Dream’s Cozmo robots. Labs. From the biggest tech companies to a slew of startups, kidcos around the world are looking to create new robots that teach and entertain children.
And while robots aren’t new, lower prices and evolving technology are helping these computerized companions evolve into more powerful educational tools for kids.
Next: Custom AI
The next step for robots isn’t to make them cuter or have them teach kids coding. This makes them able to understand and connect with children on a deeper level.
For edtech companies, having a virtual companion who can encourage kids and help them learn in a personalized way is key to making education more meaningful, says Neal Shenoy, CEO and co-founder of BEGiN, the early learning company behind HOMER. Shenoy also founded MEDIA, the venture capital firm that has backed successful companies like LiftMetrx, which was acquired by Hootsuite in 2017.
As voice recognition technology and machine learning evolve, the result will be artificial intelligence that responds differently to every child, though companies will have to be careful to address privacy and security concerns.
“Technology has struggled with children’s pronunciation and fluency, but imagine a world where children, even preschoolers who haven’t learned to read, can query their devices for facts and feelings. “, says Shenoy. “It can be a co-parent and help kids learn everything from math to literacy at their own pace.”
This piece originally appeared in Children’s screenit’s February/March 2022 magazine.