A Timeline of 43 Portable Computing Devices Marketed to Children, 1971 – 2008


In "Pocket Rockets: The Past, Present, and Future of Children’s Portable Computing" (Druin et al, 2008) I take a broad look at the category of small digital devices used by children up to age 15. The chapter begins with a look at how one child uses a Web-enabled cell phone and discusses the need to redefine the digital immigrant/digital native classifications. An examination of existing devices follows, with a categorization of 11 types of devices, along with a chronological listing of 44 noteworthy products. Several scenarios are provided describing how these devices might influence the children of the 21st century, along with a reminder that every educational reformer seems to find a champion in a gadget.



  • 1971 Pocket calculator (Sharp, Texas Instruments, Mostek, and others). It can add, subtract, multiply, and divide and display the results onan LED.
  • 1978 Simon (Milton Bradley) pairs a single-chip microprocessor with four light-up buttons to create a popular self-correcting memory game.
  • 1978 Speak & Spell (Texas Instruments) offers the fi rst voice synthesizer in a learning game.
  • 1978 VTech (Video Technology International) launches its fi rst electronic game. Today VTech produces the VTech TV Learning System and the V.Smile Motion.
  • 1979 Dynabook is conceptualized by Alan Kay at Xerox PARC but is never released.
  • 1983 Apple IIc (Apple Computer) offers a portable version of the Apple Iie for about $2300.
  • 1986 Spelling Ace Spelling Corrector (Franklin) is released. Franklin is eventually purchased by Casio but continues to create talking translators, dictionaries, and spelling helpers.
  • 1989 Game Boy (Nintendo) has a black-and-white LCD screen and comes bundled with Tetris.
  • 1989 Macintosh Portable (Apple Computer) is released for $8,900.
  • 1992 ThinkPad 700 (IBM) is released.
  • 1993 AlphaSmart (Intelligent Peripheral Devices, Inc.) offers teachers a one-device-per-student solution with a full-size keyboard.
  • 1993 Apple Newton (Apple Computer) advances handwriting recognition.
  • 1995 Phonics Desk (LeapFrog) is created by Mike Wood to help his son learn to read. Wood goes on to start Leapfrog Enterprises.
  • 1996 Tamagotchi (Bandai) releases a stopwatch-sized virtual life toy with an LCD screen that is treasured by millions of children, whose parents worry that their child’s virtual pet might die.
  • 1997 eMate 2000 (Apple Computer) is a failed attempt to repackage the Newton technology for schools. But it helps inspire the Palm.
  • 1999 LeapPad (LeapFrog) uses NearTouch technology, allowing children to hear printed words read aloud with the touch of a stylus.
  • 1999 Music Blocks (NeuroSmith) is released, the fi rst of a series of innovative electronic learning toys. Jan Davidson (founder of Davidson & Associates) advises the company.
  • 2000 Cyber Cartridge (NeuroSmith) is a cradle that delivers content to toys via the Internet.
  • 2000 MindLink (LeapFrog) delivers content to toys via the Internet.
  • 2000 TurboTwist Spelling (LeapFrog) puts the drill inside a tactile “ twist ” interface. It is one of many innovative toys that Leapfrog releases during this post-LeapPad time.
  • 2001 Game Boy Advance (Nintendo) runs existing Game Boy cartridges and features a clear color screen.
  • 2001 Pixter Creativity System (Fisher-Price) offers a touch screen and a small library of cartridge-based software. The Pixter Color is released in 2003, and Fisher-Price tries to use it to compete with the Leapster.
  • 2001 The fi rst iPod (Apple Computer) is released, along with a version of iTunes for Windows computers.
  • 2001 iQuest (LeapFrog) delivers stored thousands of school-related skills in multiple-choice format and helps lay the foundation for the Leapster and the Learning Path.
  • 2003 Franklin ’ s Spelling Ace and Thesaurus (Franklin Electronic Publishers) puts thousands of words in your pocket.
  • 2003 Game Boy Advance SP (Nintendo) combines a folding design with hundreds of cartridges and rechargeable batteries.
  • 2003 Leapster (LeapFrog) features a touch screen and cartridge-based software. It is marketed as the “ educational Game Boy. ”
  • 2003 PowerTouch Learning System (Fisher-Price) ups the ante on the LeapPad by replacing the stylus with a child ’ s fi nger.
  • 2003 Story Reader (Publications International) reads picture books out loud on a page-by-page basis.
  • 2003 iSprout (The Original San Francisco Toymakers) is announced, along with portable versions of JumpStart software. But it never reaches the market.
  • 2004 Nintendo DS (Nintendo) offers a touch screen, microphone, and wireless connectivity. It also runs Game Boy Advance software.
  • 2004 Sony PSP (Sony Computer Entertainment America) comes with Wi-Fi, a 16:9 screen ratio, and the ability to play movies. It is upgraded in 2007.
  • 2004 V.Smile TV Learning System (VTech) is released at Toy Fair. The low price and ease of use are attractive to parents, and a portable version is released the next year, to compete with the Leapster.
  • 2005 VG Pocket (Performance Designed Products) is an all-in-one pocket videogame system that comes preloaded with 50 8- and 16-bit arcade games, viewed either on the built-in color screen or on your TV screen.
  • 2005 FLY Pentop Computer (LeapFrog) uses Anoto ’ s dotted media technology.
  • 2005 TicTalk (LeapFrog/Enfora) is one of the fi rst cell phones designed for children that combines earned minutes with drill.
  • 2005 V.Smile Pocket Learning System (VTech) competes with the Leapster with a clear color screen and the ability to plug into a TV for play in the living room or in a car.
  • 2006 Kid-Tough Digital Camera (Fisher-Price) presents the fi rst digital camera designed specifi cally for preschoolers, with a preview screen.
  • 2007 Nintendo DS Lite (Nintendo) offers a brighter screen and stronger batteries.
  • 2007 Intel ClassMate PC (Intel) presents a sub-$500 laptop targeting schools, an alternative to the XO concept. Within the year, there
  • are over a dozen sub-$500 laptop computing options such as the Asus eeePC, using the Intel Atom CPU.
  • 2007 iPod Touch and iPhone (Apple Computer) provide wireless Internet access, bringing such applications as YouTube and Google Earth to a child’s pocket on a much larger, clear touch screen.
  • 2007 XO Computer ( www.laptop.org ) helps further the notion of one laptop per child. In 2008, a touch screen model is announced for 2010.
  • 2008 Didj (LeapFrog) offers grade-specifi c drill for upper elementary-age children.
  • 2008 LeapFrog Learning Path (LeapFrog) integrates handheld toys with a USB connection and online links to one curriculum.
  • 2008 Pulse SmartPen (LiveScribe, Inc.) combines letter recognition abilities with a clear sound recorder in a device the size of a marker.
  • 2009 PSP Go is announced at E3 2009
  • 2009 iPod Touch Second Generation, and iPhone 3G are released

Timeline References (Here are some links, accurate as of October 2008).

Sources for the timeline included the Children’s Technology Review database (requires subsription), with 11,030 products dating back to 1985 (Buckleitner, 2008).