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Tech Tuesday: Mickey makes a move on the netbook market with Disney Netpal

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Tech Tuesday: Mickey makes a move on the netbook market with Disney Netpal

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As summer draws to a close, parents are now beginning to outfit their kids for the coming school year. And given the way netbook prices have been dropping lately, a lot of folks are now wondering if the time is finally right to buy their 6-12 year-old a computer.

The only problem is that your typical laptop is still a rather large investment, not to mention being a fairly fragile device. And then when you factor in the Web’s Wild West aspect … Well, no wonder Mom & Dad sometimes have second & third thoughts when it comes to getting their child a computer.

Chris Heatherly (i.e. the VP of Toys and Consumer Electronics for Disney Consumer Products) understands parents concerns. He realizes that – while most people today are comfortable with the idea of their kid using the Internet -- these folks still want some assurance that their 6-12 year-old will be safe while they’re online. More importantly, that this new purchase won’t go belly-up the second someone spills a soda on its keyboard.

So – with these safety concerns & design parameters in mind – The Walt Disney Company’s Toymorrow team & ASUS began working together to create the Disney Netpal. The netbook (which – FYI – began hitting store shelves earlier this month ) that’s deliberately designed to be kid-friendly as well as parent approved.

As Heatherly explained in a recent phone interview:

“Our research showed that there was no company out there that was really focusing on 6-12 year-olds and their needs, at least from a technological point of view. So with the Disney Netpal project, we were determined to create technology that was relevant for kids. A netbook that was ergonomically suited for children. A computer that had an intuitive user interface while – at the same time -- had the playfulness that kids always look for in products.”

Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

That said, recognizing that -- while Mom & Dad want to give their kids this technology – they still had some real reservations, Chris & his crew worked hard to address all of these concerns.

“We made the Netpal as rugged as we possibly could. Given that kids had to carry these things around, weight was always a concern. But we still added thicker hinges as well as a keyboard that would guard against spills.”

But given that their child’s safety while surfing the Internet was still Mom & Dad’s No. 1 concern, Heatherly and his team then outfitted the Disney Netpal with 40 different parental controls.

“We took a white-list approach. In essence allowing the parent to decide which websites their kid could visit and what browsers they can use. The parents even have the ability to review the sites that their child visits as well as the amount of time that they spend on each site.”

While admitting that there really is no way to provide 100% protection, Heatherly still feels that that the Disney Netpal has all the tools necessary to give your child a valuable learning / play experience.

Mind you, the folks behind Disney’s netbook project recognize that kids won’t just be using their Netpal to do their homework. Which is why Chris & his crew worked with divisions of The Walt Disney Company to create fun new applications for this computer. Take – for example – the Radio Disney widget, which allows your 6-12 year-old to stream music in real-time and even submit song requests. There’s also the Disney Mix application for music & media management and Disney Pix. Which kids can use to organize their photographs & images.

So now comes the tough question: Is all this safety and durability really worthy of a $349.99 price point? To get an answer to that question, I journeyed to my local Toys “R” Us this past Friday to check out some of the Disney Netpals that they had on display.

Disney Netpal Netbook pink
Copyright 2008 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Given that the little girl who had latched onto the Disney Princess Pink floor model absolutely refused to give it up, I had to make do with test-driving the blue-is-for-boys Netpal. And while I will admit that I’m not exactly a technical whiz, I did find the Disney Magic Desktop interface relatively easy to use. This Desktop (which comes installed with every Disney Netpal) allows you to customize your screen with 10 different themes. Among them Club Penguin, Disney Fairies and Toy Story. It also features a 2D "gadget tray" that’s loaded with customizable email & browser icons.

As for the parental controls ... Those Moms & Dads out there who are now having trouble getting their kids off the computer will be thrilled to hear about Disney Netpal’s scheduler feature. Which not only allows you to restrict your child’s access to certain websites after school, you can even program this netbook so that it won’t then be able to connect to the Internet after your child’s bedtime has passed.

As for the durability of the Disney Netpal … Given the pounding that that 8-year-old girl was giving the poor Disney Princess model … To borrow Timex’s old catchphrase, this netbook can take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’.

Of course, the real test for this new retail initiative comes between Labor Day and Christmas. And given that Disney has ambitious plans for the Company’s Consumer Products division, Chris really hopes that the Mouse can move a mess of netbooks over the next four months.

“Under Iger, there’s been a renewed focus on technology at Disney. Each division of the Company was asked to come up their own technological strategy, a five year plan. And a lot of that platform is now in place. It would be great to see Disney take advantage of this platform and then create the sorts of consumer electronics that people are really looking forward to.”

So if you want to see the sort of stuff that Heatherly is hinting about here … Forget about getting your kid a Trapper Keeper this year and spring for that Disney Netpal, okay?

Your thoughts?

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  • PingBack from http://tradejim.com/dow30/tech-tuesday-mickey-makes-a-move-on-the-netbook-market-with-disney-netpal/

  • Brought to you by those market gurus who previously rolled out Disney Mobile.  My guess: there's a reason that NONE of the big computer manufactures have tried to tap into this market.  

  • Given that Steve Jobs is on Disney's board, you think they could have done a deal with Apple.

  • EpcotFan:   Remember -- Even Pixar used Sun workstations with the Solaris OS to make their movies.  Steve Jobs presence does not always equal Apple.

    However, given that the GUI of this netbook is merely running on top of Windows XP, one has got to wonder -- why did they go for Windows XP to run this computer?  I'm sure if they had done the same stuff on a Linux-based Operating System (which is the trend of many Netbooks, including the upcoming Google Chrome netbooks), they could have cut the price even more (especially considering that many netbooks are going for $200) without sacrificing the quality and functionality.

    englishboy:  as far as Disney Mobile goes, I think the biggest problem was that in order to get it, most would have to get a second carrier or switch carriers.  Not likely to happen without the iPhone in the equation.  It's VERY common these days to see very young kids with their own cell phones.  I was shocked the day my cousins got their own phones and numbers -- and I think the youngest was only about 12 at the time.  There is a market (at least now -- maybe just came too soon?), it just would've been smarter business to design a phone to be sold in Verizon, AT&T, etc. rather than try to create a whole new company (even if that company was just a rebranded service a lá Virgin Mobile).

  • Netbooks can never fly as an alternative to a laptop for a grade school student.  My daughter (who is in 5th grade now) has been using a laptop since 2nd grade.  Netbooks are at a disadvantage because of the lack of an optical drive (DVD or CD-Rom drive), and a lot of teachers have their books or homework on a CD/DVD that the student is given to work with.  I know that one can pick up a USB add-on drive for the netbook, but that just drives up the price... making laptops cost effective over the netbook.

  • I'm not sure it's healthy for second-graders to be lugging around a notebook all day...

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