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Toy of the Year? LeapFrog Announces New Kids Tablet, LeapPad Ultra

Kevin Chupka
Executive Producer/Writer
Toy of the Year? LeapFrog Announces New Kids Tablet, LeapPad Ultra

Have you ever given a kid your iPad only to have them drop it? If you have, you know how expensive that can be. Well, gone are the days of child-proofing your tablet.

John Barbour, the CEO of LeapFrog (LF), isn’t worried about your kid dropping his company’s brand new LeapPad Ultra. It’s designed from the ground up specifically for your son or daughter.

Breakout got an exclusive sneak peek ahead of today’s product launch.

"The LeapPad Ultra is today’s best tablet for kids that delivers what the others do and more," says Barbour. "We’re really the only kind of broad-based entertainment company for children that has this life-changing educational aspect built in."

This is the first LeapPad tablet with Internet capabilities, and LeapFrog made sure they did it right. The company has figured out a way to keep kids connected — without exposing them to the more unseemly parts of the web.

Jill Waller, LeapFrog's vice president of multimedia learning, explained that she and her team "filtered out anything that’s inappropriate for kids. Everything that you can find on this tablet is appropriate for ages four to nine." They did so by creating an ever-growing list of LeapFrog-approved websites and built their web experience to allow access only to the sites on that list.

As with all their products, LeapFrog tested the new LeapPad Ultra at their Emeryville, California "kid lab."

"We want to see if they’re understanding the instructions, whether they are able to navigate through the screens, or play with the toy and access all the buttons," says Jody Sherman LeVos, PhD, the leader of LeapFrog's learning team.

All the research has led to success for the company and its bottom line. LeapFrog shares were up 53% in 2012, thanks in part to the Ultra’s predecessor, the LeapPad 2. And they’ve been raking in awards for years.

"We’ve won more awards than anyone else in this space," Barbour points out. "We’ve won over 1,200 awards. If you look at the toy industry, awards for top educational toy of the year, we’ve won it eight of 13 years."

LeapFrog has over a thousand products in their stable, and Barbour still sees plenty of opportunity for growth.

"If you look at us in five years or ten years, we’re kinda gonna look the same," he says. "We’re still gonna have the same mission, but the difference is we’ll have an expanded portfolio...it will be teaching kids health, it will be teaching kids hand-eye coordination."

Right now LeapFrog focuses mainly on English-speaking countries, but Barbour sees growth internationally too. "We see a massive opportunity to deliver this educational entertainment experience in Asia, South America and parts of Europe."

However, one place you won't see LeapFrog is your kid's classroom. "Getting a product into the education system is very complex," Barbour points out. "We can move a lot faster; we can move a lot nimbler. We can put education into our product today that will not go into textbooks for probably five or six years."

Instead, he says, it's all about kids taking their learning experience from home back into the classroom.

"I get loads and loads of letters, emails, Facebook posts, on how our products have literally saved children’s lives," Barbour says. "Children who are having problems learning have been ostracized by the whole class who suddenly discovered the tag pen that helped them learn to read...and suddenly they became a lot more confident in school, and they became a lot more accepted and suddenly they were part of the class again."

The LeapPad Ultra will be sold for $149.99. It's available for online pre-sale on July 17 and on store shelves in early August.