Digitalia: ratings and ravings

Many companies have tried, but few have succeeded in producing cameras that kids gravitate towards. With the advent of digital photography, as well as a host of other high-tech innovations, things are about to change. This month, we check out snapshots...
August 1, 1999

Many companies have tried, but few have succeeded in producing cameras that kids gravitate towards. With the advent of digital photography, as well as a host of other high-tech innovations, things are about to change. This month, we check out snapshots of Mattel’s Barbie digital camera and Polaroid’s new I-Zone.

When you think Polaroid I-Zone, think typical Polaroid pictures, but a whole lot smaller and way more fun. Retailing for US$24.99, it will be available in September in photo specialty shops and select toy stores.

The camera, which targets kids eight to 17, is unique in that it produces miniature color photos that are slightly bigger than a large postage stamp (one x one inch). It takes Pocket Film (US$5.99). Far cooler than any traditional snapshot could ever be, they resemble trading cards or slides, and that makes them easy to transport, whip out, trade and toss around. Add in the fact that they come with an adhesive backing that turns them into stickers, and the premise moves to a whole other level (adhesive-backed film costs US$6.99). Kids love stickers, and because these are a creation of the individual, they let kids leave their personal mark. In this day and age, being a facilitator of permanent self-expression and individuality generates incredible brand loyalty.

The camera itself is a breeze to use. Pop in the film, and snap it shut. Any kid can do it, which is, of course, the point. There are two settings, one for cloudy days and one for sunny. Point, shoot, pull out your mini photo and watch the miracle that is a Polaroid picture develop before your eyes.

Photo quality is good, but not brilliant (our shots were either over-or under-exposed), but that’s not the point. What is more important is that it’s easy to get caught up taking 1,000 pictures or more. This thing is fun. Watch for Polaroid’s licensed versions of the camera (through agreements with Warner Bros. and Mattel) that introduce Bugs Bunny, Tweety and Barbie versions. (Of note: upcoming film products from Polaroid will feature writeable surfaces, allowing kids to draw and write directly on their pictures with any colored pencil or marker.)

The Barbie Photo Designer Digital Camera and CD-ROM is another interactive product that lets kids take color digital photos and upload them to their home computer.

Launched last fall, the camera is aimed at girls ages six and up and retails for around US$70. It too is a breeze to use (once set up). Pop in a nine-volt battery and plug into the serial port of a computer, follow Barbie’s oral instructions and you should be on your way. We say, ‘should be’ because Barbie neglected to tell us about potential software conflicts. Only after much mucking about did we figure out that peripherals have to be unplugged and some existing software disabled.

There is plenty for consumers to gripe about with the Barbie camera; the adapter cord is too short (seven feet is not a lot of leeway), the viewfinder produces a lot of glare and kids are limited to 20 photos, even when the camera is attached to their computer (unattached-for example, outside or away from the computer-it’s down to six pics!) But complaints soon cease to be heard because like its Polaroid cousin, this camera is a ton of fun. And the CD-ROM design tools let kids crop photos, create cool effects, make scrapbooks and generate short pieces of animation. Stickers, cards and small posters are also possible, so together, the software and the camera are highly versatile.

Both of these cameras are a lot of fun, if but for one major reason-they make picture-taking an event, something that the North American market is just beginning to cotton on to. The premise that instant imaging is perfect for kids because they don’t have to wait to see the results is true. One of the biggest hindrances in solidifying the camera as ‘social tool’ is the slow developing process (not to mention costs and hassles). This is the same reason why photo booths have always been such a hit with the younger set; they’re extremely social, they foster group interaction, and they give you instant results.

Neither of these two cameras produces pictures of any outstanding quality, but even the most discerning young Ansel Adams should be satisfied because taking snapshots with them is all about fun. Cameras have always been facilitators of history versus catalysts for interaction, play and fun, but with the onset of technology, that’s likely to change. Hopefully the I-Zone and Barbie digicam will be able to shift consumer expectations by introducing them to something new.

Next month: The Cyber Space checks out competing new media: enhanced CDs vs. real video vs. the Web (Flash and Shockwave).

Greg Skinner is the director of Mina, a market intelligence company with expertise in the youth market. He also admits to being a bit of a World Wide Web junkie. KidScreen asked him to do some browsing on our behalf and report on the latest developments in new media and how these innovations are having an impact on the kids entertainment industry. He is still at it. If you have any suggestions or ideas for topics you’d like to see in ‘The Cyber Space,’ please contact Greg Skinner at 416-504-6800 (phone), 416-504-4054 (fax) or (e-mail).

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