TIME technology

Tablets for Tots

Meet the uber-tablet made specially for kids and families

Correction Appended

Among kids ages 2 to 12, tablets are fast becoming the go-to digital distraction. Use of the devices in that demo leaped from 38% in 2013 to 48% this year, according to the research firm NPD. And while the features are far richer than those of the Game Boys of yesteryear, many parents’ concerns remain the same: Does my kid really need another device to suck her into her own world–and away from ours?

Now Los Angeles–based startup Fuhu is offering an unexpected solution: supersize the tablet. This fall, the six-year-old company–best known for the 7-in. Nabi 2 tablet–will launch its Big Tab, a touchscreen device whose screen measures 20 in. or 24 in., depending on the model. But unlike more established tabletop tablets, such as the Lenovo Horizon and the early Microsoft Surface, this one is meant to put kids first. “We’re trying to bring that family game night back in a digital way,” says founder Robb Fujioka.

The Big Tab, which runs on Google’s Android, boasts a large suite of games like checkers and Candyland that can be played by several players. Interactive e-books come to life across the large screen, which is big enough for multiple people to comfortably watch a movie. To encourage creative cooperation, an app called Big Canvas allows several kids to draw on the device simultaneously, crafting digital art.

That social aspect is good for children’s development, especially in contrast with more static TV and less tactile video games. “Kids can get out and actually physically manipulate information with other people,” says Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, who likens the Big Tab to a virtual sandbox. “There’s a lot of benefit to that.”

The price, however, is a sticking point. Kids’ tablets have largely been a hit because of their affordability, but the Big Tab’s two models ($449 and $549) cost more than the basic-model iPad. And while the larger size makes the Big Tab more social, it also makes it less portable–which is a main reason tablets were so popular to begin with. “The beauty of tablets is you throw them in your bag and you go,” says Gerrick Johnson, an equity research analyst at BMO Capital Markets who follows the toy industry. With a 24-in. screen, he adds, “that becomes a little more difficult.”

Fujioka argues that the versatility of the device justifies its price tag. Thanks to analytics software on the Big Tab, for instance, he can monitor how often his children are using it to play educational games vs. to watch Netflix. He’s even gone so far as to replace the TV in his son’s room with a giant tablet. “It’s not just a boob tube,” he says. “It’s an interactive device.”

Correction: The original version of this story misidentified Robb Fujioka as the CEO of Fuhu. He is the founder.

This appears in the September 08, 2014 issue of TIME.
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