Australian technology news, reviews, and guides to help you
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Kids stories become tech savvy screen-free fun with Toniebox

Kids and technology often get reduced to “give the kids an iPad”, but a clever little soft cube could bring stories without the screen.

Parenting with technology often leads itself to one of two approaches: give them a screen, or don’t.

If you sit in the first category, you have a phone or tablet ready for the little ones, and it works as a form of entertainment. All the ABC iview watching they can sink their eyes into, and probably a lot of Disney+, too, as well as some Apple Arcade for good measure. You know the drill.

The latter category moves away from screens, and instead gives them classic material. Books, toys, and outside activity, so they’re not stuck with a screen like we are.

There’s a totally healthy middle ground between the two — you can absolutely parent by giving the kids a screen, but ideally not letting them have it the entire time. However, there are also other options that can make technology usable in the lives of kids.

One such option is on its way to Australia in the “Toniebox”, a curious concept that is one part speaker and another part plushie.

Designed to be a storyteller of sorts, Tonie’s Toniebox reminds this writer of the Birde, a kid-friendly speaker that used NFC-based story tags to read kids stories on the compact speaker. Toniebox is very much like that, only with a more tactile approach to what it’s doing.

The Toniebox is a soft and huggable gadget, and designed for a little bit of rough and tumble, meaning it should survive your kids dropping it. Much like the Birde, the speaker doesn’t play regular music like any other speaker, and instead waits until a special tag is placed on the box to do something.

For kids, the idea is simple: grab the figure of your favourite property — something the company calls a “Tonie — and stick it on top of the Toniebox. Once in place, the speaker will play stories and songs related to that property. It could be characters from Disney films such as Encanto and Frozen, or it might even be Cat Squad Paw Patrol, with each delivering words for screen-free entertainment.

There are other characters, too, such Moana, Spiderman, and even a creature who has terrible tusks and terrible claws: The Gruffalo. There’s even an Octonaut or three in the list internationally, with each Tonie character bringing stories or songs and ultimately words without a screen, with the aim of entertaining and providing boosts to learning and speech development.

“Our screen-free, educational innovation is a global success and now enters the fourth continent with our launch in Australia and New Zealand,” said Lutz Möller, International Managing Director for Tonies.

“We can’t wait for all the little listeners down under to discover the magic of Tonies for the first time.”

There’s also an intriguing side of things that could be handy for families, particularly if they want to leave messages from grandparents and others. They’ll come in the form of “Creative Tonies”, which will allow you to record up to 90 minutes of content and have them play when used.

Think of the Creative Tonie as a way to record messages from friends and family without a screen, such as a grandparent reading a book they treasured, or even one they might have written.

For some, that might be a way to keep family close throughout everything, with their messages locked in time and available through something familiar and easily accessible.

Curiously, these Creative Tonies may have inspired a whole bunch of extra releases on places like Etsy, which include custom Tonie figures as part of its marketplace, authorised or not.

As for when parents will be able to find a Toniebox locally, the company notes that pre-orders are set for mid-July with release a month later in August, though no price has been set. A Toniebox starts at $99 USD in America, suggesting Australians can expect to see a price closer to between the $149 and $199 mark locally before you factor in the cost of extra Tonie characters.

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