9 July 2012

In a Fisher-Price lab, apps become child’s play

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At a Fisher-Price lab, researchers watch children at play to come up with ideas for new products, including toys that incorporate apps on iPads and iPhones.

At Fisher-Price, “we bring babies in with their moms and watch them at play with different types of apps, different types of products,” said Deborah Weber, senior manager of infant research. Her job, she said, is to “understand the ages and stages of babies — what they can and can’t do, what their interests are, and the growing needs of families today.”

[Fisher-Price calls this process] spelunking, which in its literal sense means to explore caves. But in the realm of toy making, it refers to the simple act of watching children play.

Spelunking has been around since the Fisher-Price PlayLab was formed in 1961, the same year that bricks made by a Danish company called Lego made their American debut. In its earlier days, the lab was filled with toys like a googly-eyed rotary phone known as the Chatter Phone, and the Corn Popper, a kind of mini-lottery machine on wheels.

Today, the lab, located at the Fisher-Price headquarters in East Aurora, N.Y., looks more like an Apple store. But instead of adults and teenagers, there are infants staring into computer screens, and parents and toddlers are passing iPads back and forth.

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