Form should follow function, but this toy laptop, the Vtech Challenger, shows how form can prohibit function.

This toy claims to be a laptop that “will help your child discover a whole range of learning”. A number of word, math and language activates are built-in, with children following spoken prompts to answer questions and solve problems. Some simple games are also included in the package.

Vtech has been ambitious in trying to cater for the substantial developmental differences that exist between children aged from four to eight years old in a single product. While a child may progress into more challenging activities as they grow older, the poor nature of the Challenger as a tool for accessing the programmed activities makes this unlikely.

While Vtech describes the Challenger as a laptop, the screen presents only 20 percent of the visual interface between the child and the activities within its brightly coloured chassis. And at a time when children (and adults) expect colour and engaging visuals, it offers only a grey scale picture and crude animations. This is not up to the expectations of Australian kids.

Final word

It is the challenger’s failure as an interface, however, that will present the most important barrier to any kind of enthusiastic or sustained interest from most children. It is a product more likely to be used for a short period and then forgotten, rather than returned to for ongoing play and development, and this makes it of limited value.

I believe it would be a great disappointment to any child.