The world of tablets may be flat, but Tiggly in New York is bringing new dimensions to iPads with physical shapes it says can teach motor skills to preschoolers and younger tikes. Starting Tuesday, Tiggly’s package of “appcessories” will be on shelves at Apple stores with the rollout planned to span locations in North America, Europe, and Australia. The related apps are available for download.
Tiggly is not the first company to combine real-world components used with apps, but the company believes it can get kids to be more active in the digital age.
The games developed by Tiggly, which has Boston roots, combine shapes such as stars, circles, and squares that kids use to interact with the apps on the tablet. Children use the shapes to create animals, tell stories, and draw. Currently the startup’s apps are available for iPads, with plans to bring Tiggly to Android tablets in early 2014, says CEO Phyl Georgiou.
The apps start with the basics, he says, teaching kids to identify shapes and then learn to work with the objects. “One of the apps is about structured learning, taking kids through development from 18 months to four years old,” Georgiou says. Children change dramatically during that period, he says, as they develop new ways to interact with the world.
A package of Tiggly shapes costs about $30, and the first three apps, which are focused on geometry and spatial skills, are free. Additional, paid apps are due in the coming months. Georgiou says his company plans to spread into more segments of learning, and at next year’s Toy Fair in New York it will introduce new apps and shapes for counting. “We all grew up playing with counting rods, wooden blocks, and jelly beans,” he says. “What does that look like in the modern age and still have the physical component?”
He sees the so-called “appcessory” market just starting to bud as the toy industry creates components that interact with tablet apps. Angry Birds Star Wars Telepods, for example, lets players put characters from the physical world into the video game. “That helps educate consumers on what an appcessory is,” Georgiou says.
However, he says such branded products are very different from Tiggly’s pursuits in education technology, which are designed to encourage the development of motor skills. He sees long-term play potential with appcessories because, unlike other types of toys, apps can be updated as children mature.
Tiggly—founded by Georgiou and co-founders Azi Jamalian, the company’s chief learning officer, and COO Bart Clareman—emerged in 2012 from a competition at Harvard Business School. “I noticed that companies like Disney and Mattel were putting physical things on the iPad,” Georgiou says. “Essentially the toy industry is worried that with the prevalence of iPads, their business is going away.”
Though brands create interactive toys based on movies such as Cars for tablets, they don’t usually have an educational mission, Georgiou says. He saw this as an opportunity to develop apps and physical objects that help children develop spatial skills. Georgiou says it can be hard to get kids of today, who may be surrounded by their parents’ flashy gadgets, interested in shape puzzles made from wood and other toys of old. So his team looked for ways to update play in the real world. “We jokingly said ‘how do you reinvent the triangle?’ That’s what we did with Tiggly,” he says.
Georgiou thinks Tiggly can help resolve a debate over what constitutes “good” video screen time for kids. Rather than letting children sit staring at screens, his startup’s apps and shapes aim to coax more active playtime. “That’s the kind of thing that academics and pediatrics are more supportive of,” he says. Kids still need to tumble around and run amok when they play, but if they grab a tablet, Georgiou thinks Tiggly can keep them interested in games that require some real-world interaction.
Getting into Apple stores is just the latest move to get Tiggly in front of consumers. The product had a soft launch with Nordstrom.com in October and will be coming to Imaginarium stores in Europe and Latin America, Georgiou says. Specialty stores in New York, Los Angeles, and parts of Connecticut also plan to carry Tiggly. The startup raised $500,000 in a seed round announced in late October with Kae Capital and others.
Georgiou says there is some question in the market whether tablets that have multiple uses, such as iPads, or kids-specific tablets from companies such as Leapfrog, Samsung, and Toys “R” Us will capture the largest share of younger users. He says his company’s business model will let Tiggly watch the device makers battle it out, and then tailor the apps to work with the winners. “The multipurpose tablets are selling very well,” he says. “It’s going to be a while yet until someone really distinguishes themselves as the kid-specific tablet victor.”
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