Earlier this week, publishers, app developers, and a few teachers gathered at the Boston Public Library for the prelaunch of Fable, a 7-inch Android tablet developed over the past 18 months by mobile device startup Isabella Products in Concord, Mass. The first "child-friendly, juice-proof" tablet aimed at ages three through 10, Fable will be officially introduced in March and will be produced in Massachusetts.
Isabella has been tweaking the Fable through pilot programs, like one at the Keverian School in Everett, Mass., this summer. Teacher Furnell McGrath attributed high attendance rates for her second-grade summer school program to the tablet, which she used for reading fluency, math, and some fun. “As a teacher and about-to-be parent, the future of technology makes me a little nervous,” she said. “I would wholeheartedly recommend the Fable. There’s no way the student can access a browser. They cannot put anything on these which you don’t want them seeing.”
More pilots, which allow schools to test up to 15 Fables for two weeks to two months. are planned for schools in Colombia, Spain, Mexico, Peru, and the U.S., according to president and CEO Matthew Growney. The first one outside Massachusetts will take place early next year in a classroom in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood. Most pilots are geared to children between the ages of 5 and 7, although a few early ones gave children in pre-K, kindergarten, and special needs programs a chance to use the tablet. Isabella is also in discussions with nonprofits that work with children like the YMCA and the Boys & Girls Club.
“We’ve tried to create a soft landing where print-only publishers can bring their content to the laps and fingers of children,” said Growney, who has three children under the age of 10. Through Isabella’s VizitMe store, Fable users can access 10,000 books, 10,000 apps, activity pages, and videos. Much of the content is available in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. It will be available in French later next year, and Isabella plans to continue to add languages. “World-class content should be available in any market,” commented Growney.
Some content comes pre-loaded on the Fable. Isabella can customize it based on the age and abilities of the child who will be using the tablet. Although the Fable is browser-less, it connects through wifi and allows children to share their work with teachers and friends. Parents and teachers can control those lists from their own devices; they don’t have to use a Fable. They can also email PDFs to the Fable to supply additional content.
Bookigee founder and CEO Kristen McLean told attendees, “I’m very bullish on tablets and digital.” She cited a U.K. survey by the National Literary Trust and Pearson that shows that disadvantaged children ages 3 to 5 read longer and have better vocabulary with touch-screen technology. After having a chance to use the Fable, she added that she’s feeling “very enthusiastic” about it in particular.
To compete with other tablets, particularly the iPad, Isabella has tried to make the Fable relatively inexpensive, while offering children a safe tablet experience. It will retail for $129.99; $99 for schools.
But for Fable to be successful the tablet maker will have to find its market. For now it is focusing on lining up one or more big box stores along with online retailers. Fable is also available direct from Isabella.