All posts in “kids”

Smilo’s products are designed to be healthy for babies and easy on parents’ eyes


For a basic baby item, picking the right pacifier is surprisingly daunting. Many new parents have no idea how many different pacifiers are on the market until they are staring bleary-eyed at store shelves. Babies are also notoriously picky about their soothers and often reject several brands before finding their favorite, but it’s also important to use pacifiers that won’t hinder teeth development.

Founded by a team including a biomedical engineer, dentist and industrial designer, Smilo is a new direct-to-consumer brand that wants to make buying pacifiers and other essential baby products easier for parents. The site launches today and has received $3.25 million so far in seed funding from Brand Foundry and Norwest Venture Partners. Its first lineup of products include pacifiers, bottles designed to reduce gas or ear infections and accessories like snack containers and pacifier clips that don’t damage baby clothing.

Smilo chief executive Josh Wiesman and medical advisor Dr. David Tesini, a dentist, have licensed their patents for medical devices and other products to other companies for more than 20 years. They decided to launch an e-commerce company after seeing a gap in the market for functional but attractive baby products.

Wiesman patented his first pacifier design while he was still a sophomore in college. He first became interested in getting a medical or dental device patent while brainstorming ways to increase his chances of getting into medical or dental school. During winter break, he went to Dr. Tesini for a routine teeth cleaning. After spying a patent displayed on the wall, Wiesman told his dentist that he hoped to get his own patent, too. Dr. Tesini pulled out a folder for a pacifier that he stopped working on in 1985 and the two began a 20-year collaboration.

The two also founded TW Innovations, which makes pediatric orthodontic devices. Wiesman says he feels that there isn’t a big difference between creating medical devices and making baby supplies. “The design and problem-solving process is the same. I think the opportunity to create amazing, game-changing products in the baby and child space is really what motivated me to make the switch,” he says.

Smilo currently makes two pacifiers, a one-piece silicone model called the Smilo Newborn Pacifier and the Smilo Pacifier, which comes in three sizes and is reversible to make it easier for babies to pop into their mouths.

Wiesman explains that some pacifiers may collapse while babies are using them, which can cause them to develop a cross-bite. Smilo’s patented pacifier designs avoid that by expanding slightly while in a baby’s mouth instead. Smilo’s team looked for data about pacifier design and palate dimensions and growth patterns for babies and toddlers up to three years of age in medical and dental journals. Then Wiesman says they hired a team to model a pacifier using finite element analysis to “understand how it flexed and stretched in the mouth during soothing.”

There are also many bottles already on the market that are designed to help babies with gas (popular brands include Dr. Brown and Avent). Wiesman says the design of Smilo’s nipples are based on the milk ducts inside a breast, making it easier for babies to eat without sucking in too much air or putting too much pressure on their mouth, stomachs and ears, and it also has a vent to let in air and keep from creating a vacuum.

Smilo will launch more products, including things for kids in other age groups, over the next months.

Amazon’s chat fiction app Rapids ties up with Amazon Studios with launch of ‘Signature Stories’


Today’s kids aren’t just reading books. They’re also tapping and playing with interactive stories on tablets as preschoolers, then delving into instant messaging-like chat fiction apps as teens. Amazon’s entry in this space, Amazon Rapids, was announced late last year as a way to bring this style of interactive fiction to readers in the 5 to 12 age range.

The company more recently introduced a new program called “Signature Stories” that aims to make its stories more appealing by integrating characters from TV shows kids already know and love.

The move could help Amazon gain ground in today’s increasingly competitive ‘chat fiction’ app market.

Adults may not have heard of them, but chat reading apps are hugely popular on the App Store, across age ranges. For example, the number one free app in App Store’s “Books” category at present is chat stories app Hooked, which is closely followed by rival Yarn in spot #2, as well as Wattpad’s newer entry in the space, Tap, at #9. Other chat readers can also be found in the top 20.

Amazon Rapids doesn’t appear in this section’s top charts, however, because the company introduced its chat reading app in the “Education” section on the App Store instead. Likely, this was done with the hopes that Rapids would better stand out if it didn’t have to compete directly with the other chat readers; plus, it helps to better target parents looking for apps that don’t just entertain, but also teach.

The Rapids subscription service allows kids to read along with its stories with optional audio, and tap on words for help with pronunciation or definitions, in addition to tapping to reveal each new line of character dialog.

Rolled out just ahead of Comic-Con International last week, Amazon Rapids’ new Signature Stories program isn’t just leveraging kids TV IP – like kids’ characters themselves – from its participating partners; it’s also bringing in celebrity voice talent to narrate the new stories.

However, the program at launch is only rolling out with support from Amazon Studios, making the entire effort more of a cross-promotion between Amazon properties, for the time being. But Amazon is leaving the door open to future partners who want to find new ways to reach children in today’s digital age, where traditional book-reading now has to compete with apps, games and other mobile content.

Amazon Studios’s new original stories on Amazon Rapids feature characters from Amazon’s kids’ TV shows, including “Danger & Eggs,” and “Niko and the Sword of Light.” The former includes the celebrity voice talent of Aidy Bryant of Saturday Night Live, while the latter brings in Tom Kenny, who voices SpongeBob Squarepants.

These shows may not be the big-name kids’ brands that parents are familiar with – like Sesame Street, for example, or Disney – but assuming your household has Amazon Prime Video, there’s a good chance your kids will know of them. (I know we do.)

The stories themselves are also authored by the shows’ writers, extending the universe introduced by the series in a natural way.

While popular kids’ TV shows have historically translated into other merchandise like dolls, toys, books, and more, chat stories are something of a new frontier for studios and programmers.

Despite chat fiction apps’ current popularity, it’s unclear whether interaction stories will be a fad, or if it represents a new way kids of the digital age will read for fun, in the longer term.

Amazon Rapids is a subscription service, which also includes a parent dashboard where mom or dad can check in on kids’ progress, as well as find information that will help them start conversations about what kids are reading. The service is available on iOS, Android, and Amazon Fire devices for $2.99 per month to start.

Kids app maker Toca Boca debuts its first consumer product collection at Target


Toca Boca, a hugely popular kids’ app maker, has grown to over 170 million downloads across its line of 38 apps, which 13 million children use every month. Now, the company is transitioning its brand beyond the digital space to become a maker of real-world products, as well. In an exclusive deal with Target, announced today, Toca Boca will launch its own collection of apparel, accessories, sleepwear, backpacks, lunch bags, bedding and activity books, aimed at kids ages 5 to 9.

The collection will feature Toca Boca’s iconic characters and style, and will adhere to the same design principles that has made its apps – which the company refers to as “digital toys” – so well-liked.

If you’re a parent, it’s nearly impossible to miss out on the Toca Boca craze. The Stockholm-based app maker dominates today’s App Store, thanks to its clever and thoughtfully designed suite of apps. To give you an idea of its market traction, the company currently has 23 percent market share among the paid kid apps on the App Store – that’s a huge chunk of the pie.

The U.S., in particular, is a key market for Toca Boca, accounting for nearly a third of its total user base across both Android and iOS.

What makes Toca Boca so appealing to children is that the apps are designed to inspire more open-ended play. Unlike most games, there are levels to beat or scores to top; instead, Toca Boca lets kids just have fun with apps – whether that’s cutting and styling characters’ hair, hosting a tea party, putting together a band and making music, creating robots, or even designing or playing within virtual worlds, as with its Toca Life series (e.g. Toca Life: City, Toca Life: Farm, etc.), Toca Nature, and more.

The company grew out of the 200-year-old Swedish publishing firm Bonnier, where it had operated like a startup. It was sold in 2016 to children’s entertainment company Spin Master, which produces kids TV “Paw Patrol” and others, and makes a number of toys, like the Flutterbye Fairies and Kinetic Sand, for example.

Toca Boca says it already had plans to expand beyond digital before Spin Master acquired it, but its new parent has been a helpful partner on this initiative.

“Toca Boca’s vision is to be a category-independent brand, to be a beacon in the world for kids. The move into physical products and licensing began nearly two years ago, before the acquisition, and marks a major milestone toward that goal,” explains Toca Boca COO, Caroline Ingeborn.

“However, working with Spin Master since the acquisition has been great as we have very complementary skill sets. They’ve been able to support us and offer a helpful perspective and we are looking forward to continuing to work with them in the future,” she says.

The debut collection at Target will include 38 individual SKUs, which will launch this month ahead of the back-to-school shopping season on both target.com and in retail stores. The clothing will be available in sizes 4 to 16, and will be available for both boys and girls – as the apps themselves have a cross-gender appeal. In addition, the collection will be merchandized between the boys’ and girls’ aisles in many Target stores, the company also notes.

Like its apps, the products follow the same design principles – clean lines, bright color palettes, and a bit of quirkiness – notes Toca Boca.

“The collection features some of kids’ favorite elements from Toca Life in a way we hope empowers kids and helps them express who they are,” notes Ingeborn. “We tried to inject the fun details we are known for in digital toys into everyday items — making playthings out of everything,” she adds.

The products, at a glance, are obviously from Toca Boca – and it’s likely kids who see them in Target’s aisles will immediately make the connection.

While this is the first time Toca Boca will have its own consumer products, the company’s subsidiary Sago Mini, aimed the  preschool set, already has a line of books, plush toys, figurines, playsets, bedding, t-shirts, books, and more, which are sold online today. Its product line, first launched with toys in 2015, takes a different approach, however. Its primary focus is toys and it designs everything in-house.

Toca Boca, meanwhile, worked with licensees to create its debut line, including FABNY, The Foundery, Franco Manufacturing and Random House Children’s Books. The decision allowed it to bring its products to market more quickly, says Ingeborn. And its initial collection does not include toys.

What’s interesting about Toca Boca’s consumer product launch, too, is that it’s tying the physical goods to the apps in a unique way. Its Toca Life: City app is going free for the first time, and is being updated with a new feature and location where kids can unlock in-app gifts using a free code found inside Target’s stores.

The unlocked content will be some of the same items Toca Boca is selling at Target – effectively turning the app into a promotional mechanism for the real-world products.

Toca Boca’s collection hits Target on July 17.

Finally, there’s a parental control app that won’t cause a family feud

Kids love their screen time.
Kids love their screen time.

Image: christopher furlong/Getty Images

For a lot of kids, growing up in today’s world means more time spent staring at screens than biking around the neighborhood with friends. This isn’t a huge surprise considering the increase in affordable personal electronic devices. But it puts a difficult task on parents: How do you keep kids from engaging in too much screen time without getting tantrums or moody backlash?

A 2015 study by Common Sense Media reported that kids aged eight to 18 in the U.S. spend an average of nine hours each day using media. It’s become an addiction for many, but a new app called unGlue is here to make management easier. The app helps families agree on an amount of screen time kids will engage in, and then holds them to it. 

Kids can see how much time they have left in the app.

Kids can see how much time they have left in the app.

Image: unglue

Alon Shwartz, unGlue co-founder and CEO, is the the father of a daughter and two sons aged 11 to 18 years old. He created the app as a bit of a reality check, and his kids have helped shape it. 

“To be honest, kids are kids even if their dad happens to be the CEO and co-founder of unGlue, so they were not ‘jumping from joy’ when we started the unGlue journey a couple of years ago,” said Shwartz.

But involving kids in the decision of how much time they should have on screens and letting them manage that time gives them agency. The chance to earn time by doing chores or to save time, rolling unused time to a new day, teaches valuable skills as well. 

“I don’t want to paint a perfect picture,” said Shwartz. “Social media, videos, and games are still as addictive as ever, but unGlue is a way to bring awareness and appreciation of time back to their lives and stop those addictive apps and websites from controlling them.”

The app was created specifically to be as family —and user — friendly as possible. It’s set up in a way that lets a parent monitor the screen time of all family members from their own devices. In the kid’s version of the app, each child can see exactly how much time they have left in each category, like social media and entertainment.  

Parents can manage the whole family's time from one app.

Parents can manage the whole family’s time from one app.

Image: unglue

One problem with some of the parental control apps on the market is that they simply rely on an on/off switch. There are no lessons being taught, and kids don’t learn how to manage their time. The most common result from these apps is a parent-child showdown. 

Shwartz recognized this and has a message for parents.

“Involve your kids in the conversation before you set their limits. Forget ‘parental control,’ think kids-empowerment,” said Shwartz. “Yes, you did buy them the phone, that is not the point. You want to help them learn how to manage their own time. The more your kids are involved in the process, the less resistant they will be.”

The free app was originally launched for iOS, but it recently added functionality for Android devices.

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