There are times when you have to wonder what people in the consumer electronics industry are thinking. This year’s Consumer Electronics Show is a good example. I thought I’d seen everything when one exhibitor demonstrated a $39 device that tidies up iTunes libraries and another offered a new line of old-fashioned telephone receivers for cell phones (in hot new colors!). Then, I saw the remote-control, electric skateboard.
“Why would someone want to buy that over a regular skateboard?” I asked in the kindest, most courteous way.
“You don’t have to scoot it,” the exhibitor said matter-of-factly.
Fortunately, it wasn’t long before I stumbled across an oasis of sanity — the MommyTech Zone. Introduced this year, the area brings together the newest apps, gadgets and tech toys for parents under one umbrella. The products are practical and make sense. After all, what mom wouldn’t love to show relatives the cute thing the baby did moments after it happened? What parent doesn’t want to check up on a sleeping tot from across the house or halfway around the world? And what worried dad of a 16-year-old wouldn’t love to make sure he’s driving safely?
Those are just some of the things you’ll be able to do with the collection of cool contraptions for kids and their keepers coming out this year.
Looxcie: Let’s face it, Bluetooth headsets make you look like a Klingon. Fortunately, Looxcie (pronounced “look-see”; $199 on amazon.com) makes the fashion disaster worthwhile by attaching a video camera. If you have to look like a sci-fi refugee, you should have some sort of superpower. Being able to make a video of whatever you see won’t stop crime, but it will allow you to capture your child doing something cute. Just press a button and turn the last 30 seconds into a permanent clip and send it to grandma at the same time.
Vinci Tab: When you go to grandma’s house, however, there’s always the problem of keeping kids entertained, because eating and playing patty-cake only go so far. Instead of turning on the TV, you can opt for a few tablet computer options that make them think. Vinci Tab ($400; due out midyear), a touch-screen tablet for babies to 3-year-olds, comes packed with software, games, a digital storybook and music video designed to foster creativity by allowing tots to explore zoos, farms and other virtual settings while learning at their own speed.
Griffin's Lightboard: If you have an iPad, but fear breakage, consider Griffin’s Lightboard ($40 at Apple Stores), a plastic case with a touch-sensitive window and several of its own apps. Kids can trace fish with Fishy Friends or create virtual robots with the Robot Mixer. There’s also Griffin’s Crayola Color Studio HD ($29.99; due out this month) with an iMarker stylus and app that turns your iPad into a high-tech, animated coloring book. Be forewarned, there’s no protective case.
Jerry Rice & Nitus' Dog Football: Of course, video games are often unavoidable. If grandmom has a Wii or the whole gang goes back to your place, Jerry Rice & Nitus’ Dog Football (due out late summer or early fall) by Judo Baby is a new game that gives parents a fighting chance because there are no complicated controls, just a bone that you point in the direction you want your dog to run in. Remember, when playing kids, the goal isn’t winning, it’s avoiding looking incompetent.
Withings' Smart Baby Monitor: After all that fun and the nightly bedtime routine, you can rely on a new baby monitor to stand watch. Withings’ Smart Baby Monitor (no price information available; due out in September) adds a new wrinkle to the standby: smartphones. If you have a home WiFi network, you’ll be able to watch your child from a nearby room or a far-away country on an iPhone, tablet, computer or ebook reader. It also has two-way communication, so you can comfort a fussy baby from Beijing or change the lullaby playlist from London.
Mobi’s MobiCam DXR: This camera ($229, $99 per additional camera) also offers two-way communication and remote access, along with the ability to add various cameras to monitor more rooms at the same time.
The Sonic Bomb Jr. with Bed Shaker: And if your kids are hard to wake, there’s even a solution for that. The Sonic Bomb Jr. with Bed Shaker ($34.95) has a 120-decibel alarm, flashing alert light and a vibrating device that fits underneath the mattress and shakes it when the alarm goes off. Just try sleeping through that.
Tiwi: About the only thing that will get a teenager up faster may be getting the keys to the car. Once they’re behind the wheel, there’s a gadget to ease parents’ concerns and help improve the skills of inexperienced teen drivers. Tiwi ($300–$600, depending on local provider, plus monthly subscription fee of around $30) is an onboard computer that grades driver performance and tells teens when they are driving dangerously. It also allows parents to set limits on potential destinations and driving speed. If a young driver goes over the limit, parents are immediately notified via text or phone message.
Additional great gadgets for kids . . .
Swagg: It’s a mobile app that stores your store loyalty card numbers so you won’t have to fumble around in your wallet or purse looking for them; it also enables you to send gift cards complete with a personalized message and video.
Samsung cameras: Finally, cameras that solve the problem of getting kids to sit still long enough to take a picture. When it’s in child mode, a screen on the front shows a brief animation to catch their attention ($150–$280; models ST700, PL 170 and PL120).
Kenmore Connect: (featured in many new Kenmore washers and dryers): It’s hard not to love a washer/dryer that diagnoses itself. If the appliance is broken, you call Kenmore, hold the phone up to the machine and press a button. Doing so allows an operator to pull up a diagnostic screen, which tells them what’s wrong, if you can fix it yourself or what parts the technician will need before heading out on the service call. Who knows? If the technology improves enough, maybe one day Kenmore will be the one with the lonely repairman.
Stay-at-home dad/writer David Volk is the author of The Cheap Bastard’s Guide to Seattle. Check out his daily deal blog, cheapbastardseattle.com.