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Businessweek Archives

A Toy Store To Visit In Your Stocking Feet

Bits & Bytes


DOES THE IDEA OF TAKING youngsters shopping at Toys `R' Us send shivers up and down your spine? If so, eToys Inc. in Santa Monica, Calif., has a new service for you. On Oct. 1, the company is scheduled to launch an online toy store that allows you to purchase everything from Barbie to the software program Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? in the comfort of your own living room.

With more than 1,000 toys from 65 manufacturers, eToys wants to be the dominant retailer of toys on the Web. "Nobody has targeted this as a category killer for the Web," says CEO Toby Lenk. He does have competition, however. F.A.O. Schwarz offers some toys on its Web site. Toys `R' Us, which Lenk views as his prime competitor in the broad toy market, doesn't have a Web site yet, but plans to test one later this year.

eToys is financed by idea lab! of Pasadena, Calif., a company that is backed by Steven Spielberg and that invests in Web startups such as CitySearch Inc., the online city-entertainment guide. Like CitySearch, eToys plans to foster the idea of community to keep people coming back to its site. It will include discussion groups, and toy recommendations from the Parents' Choice Foundation, Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, and other organizations.EDITED BY PETER ELSTROMReturn to top


FOR YEARS, SOFTWARE MAKERS have sold programs designed to help kids learn to read. But Donna Stanger always felt something was missing: the ability to let children know if they're using the correct pronunciation for a word or letter. In February, Stanger, general manager of educational software maker Edmark Corp., got the chance to change that when new owner IBM gave her a peek at what was in its labs.

In October, Edmark will have on store shelves the first reading program to use speech recognition. Let's Go Read! An Island Adventure, is designed for children aged 4 to 6. Kids listen to the sound of a letter "e," for example, and then repeat it into a microphone, which is attached to a baseball cap the child wears. If the pronunciation is wrong, the program encourages the user to try again. If it's correct, the children hear their own voices saying the letter. In addition to the alphabet, the program has a 400-word vocabulary. The software works with any 486-based PC, but you'll need a Pentium 90-Mhz class machine or better to use the speech capability. The package will have a retail price between $39 and $44.Ira Sager EDITED BY PETER ELSTROMReturn to top


IF YOU'VE EVER USED A TELEPHONE to enter a stock symbol--into an online brokerage account, say--you know how frustrating it is to tap a key a couple times to enter just one letter. The letters IBM, for instance, require seven entries--six for the letters and the pound sign to end. It was that tedious repetition--and potential for error--that got inventor Edward D. Lin thinking.

His solution: keys that press down for a number and that toggle north, south, east, and west for individual letters. To his surprise, the layout permits the functions of a computer keyboard to reside in the 12 keys of a telephone pad. By mimicking the ASCII language of keyboards, his VersaPad can accommodate Arabic, Russian, and Japanese characters.

Lin is hawking the idea to telecommunications companies including Motorola, Nokia, and Philips. If he's successful, the toggling keypads may hurry the arrival of smart phones that can send custom instead of canned E-mail messages and TV remote controls that let you cruise the Internet.Gary McWilliams EDITED BY PETER ELSTROMReturn to top

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