America's best-known doll is getting a face-lift, with the next generation of Barbie joining the growing connected toy category.
Mattel, the company behind Barbie, is teaming up with ToyTalk to create Hello Barbie, which is a doll that can hold a conversation through Wi-Fi and voice-recognition technology. The doll is still being developed, but Mattel plans on bringing it to shelves before the holiday season.
"The number one request we hear from girls around the world is that they want to have a conversation with Barbie. Now, for the first time ever, Barbie can have a two-way conversation," said Mattel.
While talking dolls are nothing new, this particular Barbie is being brought to the 21st century through a number of features. In particular, Hello Barbie will remember the users' responses and get to know them better over time, much like Cortana or Siri would. For example, if a child says that they like a particular singer, the doll might refer to that in the future. The doll will also periodically get updated through an Internet access.
The doll needs a Wi-Fi connection and can last up to an hour on a single charge.
The microphone and speaker, as well as two LED lights, are found in the doll's necklace, and the rechargeable batteries in its legs able to connect to a wall-mounted charger. The doll will sell for $74.99.
A prototype of the doll will be on show at Toy Fair this weekend in New York. The toy is currently only able to support a few minutes of conversation about being at Toy Fair and about itself, but over the next few months ToyTalk will be working on developing the toy further, allowing it to discuss a wider variety of topics.
"The idea is they're going into the things that kids aspire to be and the career paths that Barbie represents, from a scientist, mathematician, surfer, painter, writer, all of the things that Barbie has been," said ToyTalk CEO Oren Jacob. "They'll talk about feelings, and fashion is always fun. It's Barbie, so we have to get there. We'll be taking a look at Barbie and what the girls and boys who play with Barbie want to do, what they want to ask her."
While the move for Mattel is a good one, given declining Barbie sales, it does raise a number of privacy concerns, especially considering the fact that the doll will remember what the child is interested in. Not only that, but there is also a fear that the doll could be hacked to say things that aren't suitable for children, which has happened with connected dolls in the past.