Kids live very much in the moment. Ask them how their day was in school when it’s fresh in their minds at 3PM and they’ll give you an earful. Ask them at 6PM when you get home from work and you get a shrug. For parents and kids communication is all in the timing. Can a social network for kids help make bridge the time divide?
Patrick Chiang, CEO of Elfkins, a new communications platform for the youngest communicators thinks so. His company positions itself as a kid-centric communications platform that relies on voice messaging. Chiang says he was inspired to create Elfkins as he found himself disadvantaged by not always being there in the moment when his kids wanted to talk. Now his voice is channeled through Elfkin’s WiFi connectivity and its own proprietary messaging system. Chiang delivers the message using the Elfkin’s mobile app where he also controls who is invited in to the family and friends circle.
Elfkin underlying robotics is covered in a soft vinyl. It’s looks are reminiscent of the old ratfink dolls or gremlins. Standing just under 10 inches, Elfkin has quite a variety of animatronic facial expressions including its cartoon-mouth movement when delivering a message.
The backstory is that the Elfkins was gifted with magic powers to send thoughts from loved ones. The unit is about a foot high with a few simple buttons like a belly press to wake it up. When it’s ears glow, you know that you’ve got voice mail. Parents can add gestures to the message – cute eyewinks, blown kisses and hand waves.
The good news is that Elfkins promotes conversation in kid-appropriate ways. Parents appreciate that there’s no screen – just a talking toy delivering a message. Unlike Facetime or other video chats, the Elfkin does not depend on real time face-to-face communications. Anyone who’s watched their kid squirm, jump and hide during a video chat will appreciate the omission. Group messaging lets the whole family share an activity. Creative parents can improvise, using it to deliver messages like “time for bed” or “brush your teeth”. They can share a joke or play a back and forth game. Grandparents, parents who are living separately, military families – any family separated by time and space may find this more fun and engaging than a phone call. Plus you’ve got a recording of your kids voices that you’ll cherish as they grow older.
ToyMail, popularized by a SharkTank episode, was the first voice mailbox for kids to market. Elfkin is similar, but a little richer in its set of communication tools. The product ships this fall and will cost $150. I could argue that kids will miss a built-in screen and a camera to snap an image. I could argue that not every kid will find the Elfkins look irresistible I could argue that some conversations need a face-to-face. But for Elfkins the voice is the point.