Photo magic

My first camera was a gift from my dad, when I was about 10 years old. I vaguely remember it was a Pentax point-and-shoot, and it cost around £200 (?), which would be $300 in the mid 90s and over $500 today. I was not an avid photographer, but I did burn through some rolls of films when my parents took me to events such as the Edinburgh festival.

Fast forward some twenty-odd years, and my 3.5 year-old son, who’s unsurprisingly obsessed with Disneyland, has learnt to ask for our smartphones when we go on his favorite ride “It’s a Small World”. He would eagerly snap photos of every part of the ride. I thought it was really cute, and I’d certainly want to encourage his creativity, except I wouldn’t want him to accidentally drop a $1,000 phone in the water.

It so happened that same day a friend posted a wechat moment gleefully sharing her son’s new kiddie camera. Talk about viral marketing. So I started searching Amazon for camera toys. After hearing from my friend the detailed specs of the camera she got, I narrowed down my search and made a purchase. It arrived last week and my son’s been busy.

For $40, the specs (link to Amazon page) are quite impressive on paper:

What the camera looks like…
  • Front and back dual camera, 12 megapixels; 1080p video; flash
  • 32G micro-SD card included
  • 15 fun cartoony frames (borders) to create funny photos/selfies directly
  • Wifi and smartphone app for browsing photos wirelessly
  • Overall very kid-proof design
  • (Running on modified Android)
Meh picture quality…

The pictures are quite meh (probably a mix of the lens and the lack of sophisticated post-processing), but that’s almost besides the point for a toy for pre-schoolers. Toys are often about make-believe: a fake facsimile for the real “thing”, whether it’s cars, dolls, a kitchen set or a hardware bench. But we now live in a world where it doesn’t have to be just pretend – it’s now cheap enough to just give kids the real thing, in a package designed for them.

In a way this is incredibly liberalizing: kids are more than ever equal to adults, and can access and utilize similar tools for creativity and expression. Expect to see more young photographers and film-makers. (Side-note: this reminds me of the original Super-8 cameras, that many renowned film-makers such as Steven Spielberg speak fondly of.)

One other observation: this toy is a simple repackaging of existing mobile hardware / software, with a customized form-factor. And that’s why the components are cheap. What other gadgets that target niche user-cases are possible?

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