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LeapFrog Hops Into The Tween Market

LeapFrog may be using last month’s Toy Fair to hype its upcoming Fly pentop computer, but the company would rather not call it a toy.

The Fly, shipping this fall with a $99 suggested retail price, is a combination educational learning aid and gaming device. Shaped like an oversized pen, the Fly uses pattern-recognition technology tied to a tiny digital camera mounted on the pen’s writing tip that reads what a person writes. Unlike other pen-based reading-recognition technologies, the Fly does not scan the words and use optical character recognition software to translate. Instead the user must use special “Fly Paper” that is embossed with thousands of tiny black dots that the Fly’s camera reads in a fancy game of connect the dots.

The device has the ability to not only read, but recognize patterns. One application allows the user to draw a calculator on the paper with all the usual numbers and mathematical symbols. The user can then press nine plus one and the pen will announce the answer. The user can also draw a small piano keyboard, creating music by pushing the “keys.”

Officially introduced in January, the Fly is intended for “tweens” or kids between the ages of eight and 14, said Alex Chisholm, LeapFrog’s content director, and these consumers are not interested in buying a gadget of any type in a toy store. Instead these image-conscious consumers want to shop in places like Best Buy, Circuit City or Target’s game area, he said. Tweens’ desire to divorce themselves from their younger counterparts is so strong that LeapFrog will downplay its branding and not put its usual frog logo on the device.

LeapFrog is best known for its lines of learning aides for preschoolers.

The Fly is also a learning device, albeit more advanced than its usual products. The initial Fly will come with math and spelling applications and a follow-up model will feature an interactive journal for girls and a game based on specially made baseball cards for boys. Chisholm said attracting boys to the device was very difficult because they are primarily interested in TV and video games and not a game that uses a board.

The company has developed a 4-foot tall end cap called the Fly Zone that will serve as a repository for the Fly, its software and accessories. Placement of the end cap is still being worked out, but it would likely fall between a store’s CE and game area.

LeapFrog is encouraging the development of third-party software, which can be added to the Fly via a clip on memory module, and accessories like Fly Paper books. In addition, the company is working with Hewlett-Packard to develop printable Fly Paper, Chisholm said.