I’m sorry. I haven’t been writing articles for a while, at least since Christmas, and as a firm believer in high value-to-noise ratio and as someone who isn’t keen on blogs which are quite literally full of themselves, I’ve been too busy over the past few months to finish the unique and useful articles that I have drafted so nothing got posted.As part of my effort to reverse this trend, I’ve set myself a rather artificial limit of 20 articles in no less than 90 days. And as I know you’re probably not interested in the internals of my software or what my cats had for breakfast so this should be a good challenge for me to put up some real content that I hope you will enjoy reading.
I’ll start with a teddy. My wife, Dylan and I went to Ikea again today to pick up some items for one of our businesses. On the way we stopped by Tesco to grab some sandwiches for the trip. There, not too far from the sausage and egg sarnies I saw the iTeddy in all it’s post-Dragon’s Den glory. In case you missed that episode, the iTeddy is a teddy bear with an integrated media player in it’s belly. It has an RRP of £50 but today it was just £25. At £50 this newcomer teddy bear is priced like a Harrods bear and it’s half way in cost to a proper video iPod. Since the teddy has only half a gigabyte of storage, compared to the iPod video starting at four, and can only be upgraded to 2.5gb via an optional extra SD card, it’s not exactly high end. However for £25, I have a Teddy and it’s media player, two free cartoons and a partial charge so I figured it would be worth a punt!
I saw this product for the first time on BBC2’s “Dragons Den” and my initial impression was mixed. I was going to introduce my son to the wonderful world of portable media with his first iPod as soon as he was able to avoid sucking and dribbling on electronic things. In the car, he shared his thoughts on the iTeddy and it’s free cartoons by perpetually throwing the teddy into the foot well in front of his car seat. Thankfully, after loading some episodes at home from a Sesame Street DVD he was absorbed in the Teddy. As it turns out he just thought the cartoons were poor and after personalising the iTeddy with some assorted Sesame Street and Rihanna he took to it again. I wonder why the teddy wasn’t simply licensed to Disney or the Children’s Television Workshop; this would almost certainly have expanded it’s appeal.
Back to Dragon’s Den, the entrepreneur Imran Hakim made in my opinion, a very good pitch to the “dragon” investors for a £140,000 investment in the iTeddy toy. His plan was to produce for £12.50 per unit, sell to retailers for £20.00 and the retailers would sell these for £50.00. I heard from the Tesco staff that the iTeddy had been retailing for £12.50, a net loss of £7.50 to Tesco! If true, for £12.50 this is quite the bargain.
As I’ve said, the iTeddy is a combination of a cuddly toy and a media player. The iTeddy itself is a fairly standard bear, with a hard plastic dock for the media component. It looks like it can be easily put through the laundry (which is a good thing). The media section is a bit of a let down, given the asking price of £50. It’s about the same quality as a £15 Chinese-made iPod knock-off from a few years ago. The screen resolution is tiny (we’re talking approximately 240×120 or less here), it ghosts (a blur-like effect) like a pocket calculator and has a viewing angle so tight that you better be sat directly in front of it. It has a couple of cheap maze-like games that look like they’ve come from an early 90’s Nokia mobile and give the feeling that they’re only there to add another tick to the Unique Selling Point features list on the box. You can, in fact, pick up a better traditional “mp4” media player from eBay for about £15.
The guy who invented this product quite simply took a cheap “mp4” media player and a cuddly toy, glued them both together and received a patent for it. In doing so, he created one of the most amazing toys for the under threes I have ever seen.
You see, whilst Duncan Bannatyne (a Scottish Dragon from the same TV show) vehemently disliked the product, saying that he hoped it would fail because it would take away bedtime story reading responsibility from dad’s – as a dad who reads to his son every day, I seriously like this product. It doesn’t interfere with parenting any more than any other toy, except this one has some value added. You see, the trouble with giving a young child an iPod or similar media player as I found out giving Dylan an old Windows Mobile PDA is that they’ll soon break it. If they don’t dribble all over it, they’ll chew it, or throw it when they get angry or lose it. The media player component feels solid enough to roll a chair over it. If thrown, the teddy will at least provide a soft landing and as it’s so brightly coloured it’s easy to spot. I’ve loaded ours with some of Dylan’s favourite music and TV shows which are very familiar to him and provide much needed comfort and entertainment in addition to the time we spend with him. I can see him taking it in the car, listening to music as he drifts off to sleep or just throwing it around the house.
As with all version one products there are gripes. And since I’m a software engineer, I cannot end this review without coming to the product interface. You see, the media player cannot just play videos (it plays mp3’s without any problems), they have to be converted to a proprietary format first. And to do this, you have to use their software, which is the weakest chain in their product.
First you have to find the software. There’s no CD in the box, you have to download it from a not so obvious location on their website. The downloaded file converter software is shockingly poor. Running the installer gives code signing warnings, which is never a good start for any product, after installation the desktop shortcut doesn’t even have an icon. Running the software presents you with a completely non-standard interface and running the converter process doesn’t give any progress feedback (other than a perpetually scrolling progress bar that reaches the end and starts from the beginning again). It’s finished when it’s finished and meanwhile in the background it spawns a process that deletes all your previously converted files from your working folder each time you attempt to convert a new file, and on conversion you’ll probably notice some of your videos won’t convert anyway. It would have been nice if iTeddy published some information on the resolution of the screen (it’s very low) and maximum bandwidth, so that those of us who know can do the conversions ourselves using our own favourite software. Almost all Windows computers come with “Microsoft Movie Maker” pre-installed or , which performs easy conversions. So why re-invent the round wheel to make a square one? Especially when better wheels already exist. A 53 minute video (approximately DVD quality) with stereo sound converts from 700mb to 314mb, retaining good sound quality but with only a thumbnail video, I feel that better compression could be achieved via WMV or H.264.
A virtually indestructible media player with some solid playback controls for the very young. I’m not sure how well it will appeal to 5 year olds and over, who may be suited to a more capable device. The media section has a belt clip and headphone jack and can be used long after the Teddy has worn out. I’m very impressed, and would recommend if you have young children to pick one up for £25.
As this teddy goes to show, the best ideas are some of the most simple.
Oh and my cats had a combination of Whiskas fish pouches and some unidentified meat in gravy from Felix “Senior”.