Jump like a frog. Walk like a crab. Spin like a helicopter.
The LeapBand, the first fitness tracker designed specifically for kids, is not your typical entry into the quickly-growing wearables device category. With playful activity challenges, games, quizzes, personalized Tamagotchi-like virtual pets and rewards, it’s designed as much to motivate kids to get moving—and tackle the public health crisis of childhood obesity—as it is to count each of their footsteps.
Adult fitness trackers have run into some roadblocks recently. One study showed that estimated one-third of adults who bought an activity tracker used it for less than six months. But the idea that wearable technology could motivate kids to be more active was a good one for the toy company LeapFrog, best known for its kid-friendly tablet, to tackle (see "3 Secrets To Designing Great Toys, From LeapFrog and Ideo").
"We don’t just take products that kids are going to look at and see their parents using, and just make a junior version,’ says LeapFrog CEO John Barbour. "A lot of the adult activity trackers really just track your activity. They tell you what you’ve done. What we’ve done here, it’s not really truly about tracking the activity—it’s really about stimulating the activity."
The challenge in designing the LeapBand, which has a built-in accelerometer to track movements, was to keep attention-span challenged kids engaged.
To start, the designers had kids wear various adult wearables for a week and saw what was appealing and what wasn’t working, says Jody LeVos, LeapFrog’s learning team manager. Her son’s adult device, for example, didn’t have a screen so he didn’t know how he was doing until he plugged it in each morning with her and learned how many "points" he got. Later on, the team worked to tune the audio instructions on the device so kids would respond to them with movement and learned to calibrate the tracking and activity goals to kid-sized steps.
The device has a large screen and a voice that gives kids directions and awards them jewels when they complete one of 50 activities available. "When you see some of these kids and some of the stuff that they do, it’s all fun and they get so excited and into it," says Daniel Shaw, the LeapBand’s brand manager. "I have no idea what 'pop like a popcorn' is, but every single kid seems to know how to pop like a popcorn."
Included with the LeapBand, which is priced at $39.99 and is intended for ages four to seven, is a school mode, a quiet mode, and a night mode that put the fun and games on lockdown, but still allow the device to track activity and display an analog watch. Every fourth push of the "challenge button" also leads to a "cool-down" exercise, like wiggle your fingers, so "it’s not total chaos," says LeVos. It comes with an app that parents can use to monitor trends in their children’s activity, as well as a companion app that kids can use to play more educational games in front of other screens.
It will go on sale in August. With more than one-third of children classified as overweight today, a computing device that will get them moving, rather than sitting and staring in front of a screen, may be a welcome option for parents.