Fisher-Price promises its Laugh & Learn Apptivity mobile software will teach babies letters, numbers, shapes and colors. When a consumer group challenged those claims, the toy industry's trade association decided it was going to fight back with science proving the benefits of the multibillion-dollar educational software market.
Then it discovered an awkward fact: There was no science proving the benefits of such apps.
The market for mobile technology for children has boomed, with developers churning out a wide range of apps for smartphones and tablets to help babies say words, sing nursery rhymes to them and teach children foreign languages.
But concern is rising over the long-term impact of parking children in front of screens. And despite advertising claims, no major studies show whether the technology is helpful or harmful.
"The real point here is that we have laws in the country saying if you make claims about a product, you need to be able to substantiate them," said Susan Linn, director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.
Others say mobile technology may be beneficial, noting that it's different from TV — which the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children under 2 not watch — because it is more interactive and, at times, requires thinking and problem solving.
The recommendation from the pediatrics association does not account for mobile devices, noted Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrician.
"Science has not kept up with the pace of technology, and the iPad may be more than just a screen like a TV or DVD screen," he said. "It is interactive and has a lot of differences, but the truth is there is no evidence that it is beneficial. "