Tablet manufacturers are looking for new ways to entice children who have become accustomed to using their parents' smartphones, iPads and Kindles. New child-friendly tablets come equipped with camcorders and Wi-Fi connections, even social-networking capabilities.
Mainstream tech brands are also increasingly joining the fray. Samsung became the latest entrant with the release of its Galaxy Tab 3 Kids. But analysts say no obvious favorite has emerged.
"It's still an open field — nobody has dominated it yet," said Sean McGowan, an analyst for Needham & Co. "LeapFrog has done a good job, but there are also a ton of kids playing with iPads. There is no runaway winner."
For companies such as Toys "R" Us, which has weathered nearly two years of dwindling profits, children's tablets — some of which cost more than $200 — might hold the key to a profitable holiday season. To lure young shoppers, the chain has created tablet-testing areas in each of its stores, allowing children to try out nearly 30 devices, including the company's Tabeo e2.
Parents say child-friendly tablets, which often come equipped with games and parental controls, offer a lower-priced alternative to traditional tablets. But bright pink and purple gadgets can also be quickly outgrown.
Forty-percent of families with children younger than 8 own tablets, a fivefold increase from 2011, according to Common Sense Media, a San Francisco-based family advocacy organization. And as tablet ownership has risen, so has usage by young children. Among 2-year-olds, 38 percent have used mobile devices, up from 10 percent two years ago.
That shift, experts say, comes with its own challenges. The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages any screen time for those younger than 2. Older children, the organization says, should be limited to less than two hours of daily TV, tablet and computer use.