Toys R Us Inc. is stepping into the heated tablet-computer wars with a $150 version for kids — including Wi-Fi connectivity, extensive parental control features and 50 pre-loaded apps that include popular games such as "Angry Birds" and "Fruit Ninja."
But will kids want it and parents buy it?
"You can jam 50 apps into this and make it an overwhelming value," said toy industry analyst Sean McGowan. "But at the end of the day, kids may decide it's not cool and it's either Apple or nothing."
Some adults are questioning whether kids really need their own simplified — and child-proofed — gizmos.
"My 5-year-old nephew is quite adept at using his parent's Kindle Fire to play games and watch videos," Lance Whitney wrote on tech news site Cnet. "For parents looking to save some money, sharing the family tablet seems a more budget-conscious way to go."
News of the Toys R Us tablet, named tabeo, comes during a month that's been filled with new gadget announcements. Amazon.com Inc. unveiled four new versions of its Kindle Fire tablet last week, and Apple Inc. is rumored to announce its own 7-inch mini iPad in the coming weeks.
Analysts say that although the adult tablet market is flooded with rivals eager to woo shoppers, many gadget makers have yet to seriously court the increasingly tech-savvy toddler and school-age set.
"Nobody has staked an unassailable claim on the kid's end," said McGowan, an analyst at Needham & Co. "We all realize parents are giving tablets for kids to play with, but nobody is giving a $500 tablet permanently to a 4-year-old, and the $500 tablet is not tailored specifically for a 4-year-old."
So enter Toys R Us, which already carries tablets such as LeapFrog Enterprises Inc.'s $99 LeapPad Explorer, a hot seller last Christmas. Industry experts said Toys R Us sees a chance to jump into child tablets now and corner a chunk of the market with a device that cannot be found anywhere else.
The tabeo tablet will come with nearly 20 pre-loaded game apps, almost 10 educational apps, about a dozen entertainment apps and a few book apps.
Parents can also prevent kids from accessing specific websites or spending 24 hours a day glued to the tablet. Parental controls allow people to set up boundaries for eight users, block 27 content categories and additional sites, and pre-set what days and times users can go on the Web. It runs on Google Inc.'s Android Ice Cream Sandwich operating system.
Tabeo is available for pre-order now and will be sold exclusively by Toys R Us beginning Oct. 21.