For years, kids were fascinated with TV.
This large box, full of lights, colors and sounds was enough to grab their attention, giving parents some time to relax.
For many children it was also a way of discovering the world. It told them stories, showed different cultures and even taught how to behave in particular social situations.
Then, came tablets and smartphones. They're more interactive and offer no barriers to (especially junk) entertainment. All you have to do is to open YouTube and cartoons will autoplay forever.
In late 2015, Amazon's Alexa came to our homes.
Parents started buying smart speakers for the promised convenience in every day tasks.
And, as you may expect, it quickly got children's attention.
Friend of the Family
When you go through Facebook groups dedicated to Alexa, you'll quickly come across posts describing how kids interact with it.
Ever since we got Alexa, my son started looking up facts more often. Just out of curiosity, things like "how far away is Mars?".
The voice-based user interface is in many ways easier for kids to use than the internet.
There's no need to navigate apps or websites, all they have to do is to ask for a specific thing.
And they can do that before they even learn how to write.
Researchers studying the topic of emotional relationships with technology found that kids and teens see Alexa as "a friend of the family" rather than an electronic device.
Alexa Kids Edition
Amazon is well aware of how much children love Alexa.
Starting on May 9th, a special kids-friendly edition of Echo Dot is available.
It's features the Alexa they know and like, it comes in bright and beautiful colors and it offers a special kids-friendly software that will save parents a lot of nerves. They will have full control over what Alexa apps can be installed, there's no in-app purchases and it rewards children for being polite.
And speaking of Alexa apps (or "skills" as Amazon calls them) - what can we build for children?
Designing Alexa Products for Children
Due to how it's built, interactions with Alexa are a lot different than using a smartphone or watching TV.
As it lacks a screen to show things, it gives children the chance to exercise their imagination.
Also, there are no buttons that they can click in silence through the whole day.
Interacting with Alexa is more... social. Just like in conversations with other people, they have to talk to Alexa and Alexa replies.
The kids edition software even has a special educational tweak that encourages kindness.
When children say "please" while giving a command, it thanks them for being nice.
But that's just the beginning. For children, learning is a huge part of every day and Alexa offers a lot of opportunities for that.
Here are a few examples.
"Alexa, tell me a story"
Children love listening to stories.
Stories give them a chance to learn about the world. They give them a chance to live an adventure.
While TV and YouTube may tell stories with attractive visuals, there's one thing that they're missing.
It's the possibility to imagine how things in the story may look like.
That's where Alexa shows its potential.
Not only can it play children's audiobooks, but also brings possibility of interactive storytelling.
It can allow kids to ask questions about what happened or for more details about their favorite characters.
It can also tell stories with some input from the children.
And then, there was a wizard... How should we call him? Maybe Merlin?
Just like sitting with grandma by the fireplace.
"Did you brush your teeth?"
Building good habits is especially important in young children's lives.
Simple habits like brushing their teeth in the morning or going to bed on time can help a lot in growing up healthy.
Once taught, they stay with them for the whole life.
Alexa offers a lot of ways to help parents with that.
If it's in their children's room, it can ask the right questions at the right moment.
Did you brush your teeth before going to bed?
It's getting late. Time to go to sleep.
It can also bring a bit of gamification on top of that.
It can praise them or offer new stories when they do well for a few days in a row.
"Let's play counting"
Learning alphabet, counting, spelling or basic math is a huge moment in every child's life.
TV shows like Sesame Street helped children acquire these skills through songs and games.
Alexa and its voice user interface brings such kind of education even further - it can hear what the children are saying.
Not only can it show how, but also check if what the kid learned is correct.
This simple difference can make such games more effective and more engaging.
The most prominent may be adjusting the pace of learning to fit child's individual needs - by repeating lessons when something's not clear or explaining mistakes.
"What was Harry Potter's middle name"
Children love quiz games.
They let the show off with what they know.
They let them compete with friends.
They're also an interesting chance to learn new things.
Trivia games fit just perfectly into Alexa.
Opportunities for the Ed-Tech and Publishing Companies
Imagine SpongeBob waking your child up in the morning.
Or Buzz Lightyear correcting their mistakes when teaching them how to spell ‘Mississippi’.
Alexa brings a lot of new possibilities for companies that build children products.
Just like with mobile apps, they can build their own Alexa skills that are themed with their characters.
They can let kids interact with their products and characters through Alexa's interface.
They can teach and entertain them without harmful blue light emitted by computer displays.
Voice is the Future
Kids fell in love with Alexa, just like their parents.
Not only it helps them reduce their children's screen time, but also offers new, fun ways of learning.
This is the moment when ed-tech and publishing companies can join the growing platform and let kids to interact with their products and characters using voice. After all, voice is the future.
Are you thinking about building an Alexa skill for your brand?
We can help you with that. In Upside, we create tailored Alexa voice applications for companies that want to innovate with voice interfaces.
Come and say hello!.