As ToyTalk’s much anticipated Hello Barbie connected toy gears up for launch this holiday season, similar species My Friend Cayla is already rising to the podium. Billed by L.A.-based tech toy manufacturer Genesis as the world’s first interactive doll, Cayla is making its US retail debut this month following a successful global launch last November.
“What makes her really unique is you can have real-time conversations,” says Genesis GM Peter Magalhaes. “In the past, you had to have a fixed number of programmed responses. Now you’re not limited to that.”
The interactive doll works by combining many existing modern technologies like Wifi, Bluetooth, iOS/Android apps and voice recognition to respond to children’s questions. Cayla’s answers come from Genesis’ own database called Violet (voice operative learning and entertainment technology), which has stringent kid-safe security measures in place to block out thousands of words and subjects. “When Cayla connects to the internet she goes to a single encyclopedic site that is filtered through Violet,” Magalhaes adds.
In addition to fielding questions, Cayla also plays games, tells stories and shares her photo library. The classic 18-inch doll design also lends itself to offline, traditional play patterns like hair play, dress-up and role play. “Cayla is like Chatty Cathy reimagined for the modern child,” Magalhaes quips.
Talking to their dolls is a natural play pattern for young girls, Magalhaes adds, but today’s digital natives have come to expect more interactive ways to engage with their toys. “We’re taking classic toys and putting an appropriate sprinkling of technology so that they exceed modern kids’ expectations,” he says.
And in the short time it’s been on the market, it would appear My Friend Cayla has done just that. In less than a year, the loquacious doll, which launched in eight languages across 12 countries—and did particularly well in the UK—landed a spot in the top 10 holiday toy lists issued by Tesco, Argos, Carrefour and Amazon UK, according to market research firm The NPD Group. It also took home the Innovative Toy of the Year prize from the London Toy Industry Association.
With more than 400,000 dolls sold worldwide, My Friend Cayla will look to carry over some of that momentum to the US market, where it will soon be facing fierce competition from the likes of Mattel’s Hello Barbie. However, Cayla could have two things going for it—the doll is first to market and comes with a smaller price tag. Hello Barbie is expected to retail for US$74.99, whereas My Friend Cayla is now available for US$59.99.
Time will tell how the US market responds to both talking toys, but one thing seems certain—this breed of hybrid dolls appears to be here to stay. Aside from the range of online and offline activities offered, another benefit of connected toys is that they can be refined over time.
“One of the great things about products like these is that you can continually improve them,” Magalhaes says. “In the old days, once a product was shipped to stores it was finished, whereas now there’s an ability to enhance the play pattern or add a language through software updates. That’s the kind of feature that will only help the user experience.”