The high-tech communication bar is being raised yet again with the gradual rollout of the first wireless handheld gaming and communication system designed specifically for kids. Created by a Chicago-based Internet appliance company called Cybiko Inc., the same-name platform offers interactive multiplayer gaming through walls and ceilings and a wireless chat function that can accommodate up to 999 users at a time. Available in four colors, the four-ounce unit launched in 10 New York City stores in April and has since widened its distribution range to include 250 outlets nationwide, including toy retailers like KB Toys and FAO Schwarz, music chains Virgin Records and Coconut Records, and computer outlets such as Babbages and Comp USA.
Cybiko president Don Wisniewski says tweens make the perfect target for wireless communication tools because of the speed with which they embrace all things high-tech. ‘The 12 to 16 demo grasps the concept of wireless connectivity immediately,’ he says. ‘There’s no other consumer group that is more into the Internet’s features and abilities than this core group. They’re clearly faster adopters of digital technology than adults. How much they can pay for that technology is a different story.’
Compared to adult wireless platforms like the US$499 Palm 7, Cybiko is a steal at between US$129 and US$149 SRP. To bring the cost down so significantly, Wisniewski and his team took tween focus group feedback to heart and decided to narrow the range of the platform’s reach to 300 feet-a distance he says fits a kid user’s lifestyle perfectly. ‘If you think about it, a kid’s community is smaller and more centralized than an adult’s-they tend to spend most of their time at school and the mall.’ And when kids want to tap into a larger virtual community, they can plug their units into a computer to access the Web and check their e-mail.
The affordability factor also comes into play with Cybiko’s ambitious plan to offer free games and apps for download from the company Web site (www.cybiko.com). Kids can currently choose from over 75 single- and multiplayer games and other apps, including a virtual pet game called CyLandia that puts kids in charge of raising a Cy-B from birth through adolescence to marriage and stock-trading. Also up for grabs is a scientific calculator, an alarm clock and a four-language dictionary, and debuting on-line in August is an easy-to use, icon-based software development kit that kids can use to design new games and characters.
Wisniewski projects that 210 more offerings, including music composer software and a graphics design program, will be added to the lineup by the end of the year. The goal is to provide one new program each day so that kids can constantly update and customize their units. ‘Kids are really responding to the potential for personalization,’ he says. ‘One kid does nothing but collect design elements and graphics that he can e-mail to friends, while another has stripped everything off his unit to make room for more multiplayer games.’
Needing to generate enough local-level buzz to get whole communities of kids interested in the platform, Cybiko’s marketing approach has been very grassroots. For the NYC launch in April, the company ran a planned two-week promo called ‘Beat the Geek’ at a local Sony Megaplex Theater. A man with a Cybiko was set up in a display window, and kid passersby were challenged to play against him. Winners got to take home their own Cybiko unit. ‘The first day, around 25 kids showed up,’ says Wisniewski. ‘By the fifth day, there were 650 kids, two security guards for crowd control, and we had to shut the promotion down a week early. That’s all without promoting the event, without advertising it, without doing anything at all. Word of mouth goes a long way with kids.’ Next up on the marketing front is a back-to-school branding campaign that’ll have the same street flavor as ‘Beat the Geek.’ Says Wisniewski: ‘More than any other demographic, you’ve really got to earn kids’ respect. You can’t just go out there and say, `Here’s a product. You will like it.’ You have to do something wacky and different to get their attention.’
Memory expansion cards in one-megabyte (US$19.99) and two-megabyte (US$29.99) sizes are coming out this month, and an MP3 player add-on that’ll retail for around US$100 hits shelves in September. Next up is a wireless modem.