Hasbro unveils phone-like device for kids

ChatNow is aimed at kids who want a cell phone, but whose parents don't want to pay airtime charges. Photo: Dialing up tweens

2 min read
NEW YORK--After a rough 2004, Hasbro is setting its sights on "tweens," and beefing up its offerings to that lucrative market--in part with a new phone-like device for kids.

The No. 2 toy maker is putting a good deal of its research and development behind its Tiger Electronics unit, which makes handheld video player VideoNow, music recorder PlayItNow and the Furreal Friends line of interactive, lifelike pets.

For 2005, in addition to a souped-up version of Furby, and I-Dog--an ornamental dog that responds to music--the company is rolling out ChatNow, a cell-phone-like communication system aimed at kids who want a cell phone, but whose parents don't want to pay airtime charges.

Hasbro, which struggled in 2004 with weaker sales of some key items, said in its conference call earlier this week that it had high hopes for its tween consumer electronics line. The items would "blur the division between toys and electronics."

Tweens--a demographic of kids aged 7 to 12--weigh in on family purchases, have their own spending money and a wide range of interests. What's more, these picky shoppers are abandoning toys in favor of video games, clothes and, increasingly, electronic gadgets.

"This group is big; there's 20 million of them. They spend money, and they influence buying decisions," said Duncan Billing, chief marketing officer for Hasbro. "This is a significant toy business spending for us. It's a huge opportunity."

ChatNow, which will be in stores by fall and cost $74.99 for two, looks like a cell phone and lets kids "call" or "text" each other, with technology similar to that of a walkie-talkie. Each ChatNow comes with a seven-digit "Buddy Number" that can be used like a phone number so kids can call each other directly within a 2-mile radius.

The new product will be shown to toy buyers and reporters during the American International Toy Fair, which opens on Feb. 20 in New York City.

"The toy business is transitioning from purely toys to family entertainment," said Jim Silver, publisher of Toy Book and other industry magazines. "We live in a different world than we did 10 years ago, and high-tech electronics are going to make up a large part of kids' playtime in the future."

With ChatNow, kids can create a buddy list with their friends' numbers. It also has a built-in digital camera allowing kids to assign photos to their friends.

Other features include 10 ring tones, text messaging and a flashing light to let users know when they have an incoming call.

And in a bid for the "big wow" factor: ChatNow can also take up to 30 digital photos that can be animated with cartoonish eyes or wild hairstyles.

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