The iPads for babies - is 12 months too young?

Jonathan Weinberg
One such gizmo hoping to capture the wallets of parents is the InnoTab 2 Baby, aimed at children as young as 12 months.

They're the next generation of technology buyers so it's no surprise Britain's babies and toddlers are being wooed with all sorts of gadgets.

But is 12 months old too young to be handed an iPad?  Toy makers at tech expos such as London's Toy Fair think not.

From the iPad potty, which keeps children occupied with an iPad while they learn to use the toilet, to touchscreens designed for babies, toy makers are setting their sights on under-fives this year - and manufacturers at the London's Toy Fair exhibition are firmly focusing on tablets.

One such gizmo hoping to capture the wallets of parents is the InnoTab 2 Baby, aimed at children as young as 12 months.

Costing £84.99, it's been described as the 'iPad for babies', and offers a tough design to prevent damage if dropped and rubber case to stop it from being chewed.

                       [Related: Pebble 'smart watch' brings email to your wrist]

Pre-loaded with 12 pieces of music to keep a baby quiet, it also has educational apps and games with more available on cartridges or via a download.

Charlotte Johnson from VTech said: "It has a special casing that means that you can leave it alone with a child and is pre-loaded with 12 musical melodies that will soothe. It also has a cartridge that teaches the recognition of a wide range of animals from wildlife to sea-life and explains what it is and what noise it makes.

"It is designed to be educational as well as entertaining and the baby can use it on their own or with the parent." 

Vtech is not only doing battle with rival electronic toy company Leapfrog but against other tech companies such as Binatone.

Leapfrog's LeapPad 2 was named Lifestyle Toy of the Year in the Toy Fair awards while the popular Android-based Kurio has two new versions on show at the expo.

The seven and 10 inch multi-touch screen tabs will now have double the storage space at 8GB plus quad core processors instead of single core as well as better quality cameras with its makers claiming to have stringent parental controls.

Website, which aims to help parents understand the changes in technology affecting their children, is already seeing much discussion about tablets.

Editor-in-Chief Holly Seddon said: "These tools - like the printing press or the abacus before them - enhance the efforts of parents and teachers, they do not replace.

"While their parents were among the first to grow up with TV and video as standard, our kids are a generation growing up surrounded by technology that is both visible to them like the tablet or is simply part of the fabric of their homes.

"There's a reasonable chance today's children will have driverless cars or even a robot colleague at work so getting them to understand technology as early as possible is crucial."

But she added it was all about moderation saying: "My children learn through play and for every gizmo and gadget they have, they're creating a house out of Lego or even the box the gizmo arrived in!"

Their popularity means retailer Argos now has a dedicated range in its catalogue alongside more traditional toys but Peter Jenkinson, of, said parents need to research carefully and choose products wisely.

He explained: "Tablets can be a real source of inspiration for kids' inquisitive minds but last year we saw a plethora of so-called kids' tablets with Android, almost all of them a total waste of money.

"Kurio, with an ever growing number of accessories, was really the only exception to keep your kids away from your iPad."

However many parents are divided on whether tablets aimed purely at kids are a better investment than simply saving up for an Apple iPad.

Mum Lizi Jackson, from Essex, has twins addicted to their Innotab. She said: "They've had them since they were two and have always really enjoyed the games, especially the more educational ones.

"My daughter has a couple of her favourite Disney films on hers and my son has about 50 episodes of Peppa Pig. This makes them great for car journeys or when the kids wake up early.

They help with their counting and letter recognition and they can, for short periods only, be a parent-substitute. My son likes the app which reads stories out loud. When I was their age I needed an adult to have the time to physically be with me to teach me to count and read me a story.

"Of course I do this with my children all the time, but the tablet can back this up at those times when I can't."

Mum Jackie Garty, from Cumbria, has three children aged five, four and 18 months and has identified a common problem for today's cash-strapped parents.

She said: "The Innotab 2 was used over Christmas for about a week and then they just got bored with it. Despite the games saying the age range was four to nine, the girls found it too easy and not challenging enough. Even the youngest wasn't interested after a while.

"However, the children always want to play on our iPad. The games are a lot cheaper, under a fiver compared to £14.99, and the choice on the App Store is never-ending. My 18-month-old plays on the Garfield app and loves it."

Teacher and mum-of-two Charlotte Hopkins added her children, including her 18-month-old son, love the iPad. She said: "Games like Tozzle and any of the Toca Boca series help develop all sorts of skills they'd also get from traditional toys like shape recognition, language and drawing.

"It also feels like they’re learning how to interact with a computer at the same time... giving them a bit of a head start."