Dr. Panda is ready to be a household name. The Chinese kids app developer is launching Dr. Panda Plus: Home Designer, its first-ever app-connected toy.
Dr. Panda Plus: Home Designer allows kids to design their own homes, customize furniture and interact with a cast of characters in an open-ended play format. Aimed at children ages three to eight, the product comes with 51 erasable flashcards featuring household items along with 12 dry erase markers and a code for its corresponding mobile app.
Once kids color in a bedspread or shower curtain, the custom designs are integrated into the app with augmented reality (AR) technology. The app doesn’t just project Dr. Panda into the real world (in the style of Pokémon GO), it also brings kids’ designs from the flashcards into the game. The table or toilet they colored can be seen in the rooms of their in-app house, and will interact with the characters.
“Your designs come to life in the app,” says Tom Buyckx, Dr. Panda’s CMO. “I think what makes the product special is that we spent a lot of time thinking about how you can make both the physical and digital parts of the toy stand by themselves, and also have that experience of combining the two.”
The app is available for iOS, Amazon Fire and Android, and features both a design mode where kids can decorate every room in the house, as well as a quest mode that sees them help Dr. Panda find and identify different household objects.
Dr. Panda Plus: Home Designer, which retails for US$39.99, is currently available for purchase on Amazon.com and will be available at all US Apple retail locations on October 3. Its launch comes just after Apple announced it would focus on AR capability with its upcoming iPhone 8 and X models.
Buyckx says Dr. Panda is looking to make even more moves into the physical world, and app-connected toys are the perfect bridge for the developer. The Dr. Panda Plus series will feature physical toys with a digital (often app-connected) focus. And as Dr. Panda continues its expansion with additional categories like figures, plush and publishing, Buyckx says the company will likely work with licensing partners on expansions of the brand. “We want Dr. Panda to be a brand that kids can spend time with in different areas,” he says.
In addition to diving into more product categories, Dr. Panda also has plans to launch a 2D-animated series on YouTube. The short videos will be highly interactive, featuring games like “spot the difference” that invite kids to engage with Dr. Panda characters. Buyckx says the company is also looking for partners for a 3D-animated series for television that is currently in development.
“I think animation is a very conscious choice to make that move further into the whole kids entertainment spectrum,” he says.