The Yoto Player, a connected speaker for kids, has more in common with old-school cassette players than smart speakers like Amazon Echo or Google Home devices. It deliberately doesn’t have a microphone, camera, or a screen. It’s design is to play audio. It does so through NFC-enabled physical cards. Montessori teachings inspired Yoto Player. It emphasizes tactile learning and encourage kids to have a level of independence. Songs, audiobooks, and podcasts are saved into the cards. This lets kids choose what they want to listen to. It was created by two parents who wanted to minimize screen time for their kids. Compared to Bluetooth speakers that need to be paired with a phone. After a successful Kickstarter run with its first version, Yoto partnered with Pentagram. The renowned design studio behind everything from Yahoo’s redesign to microprocessors took it for a second run.
The physical cards slot into the top of the speaker like the nostalgic HitClips of yore. Hitclips encased bite-sized clips of music in tiny plastic squares. Parents can connect the speaker to a companion app to “upload” their own content onto blank cards. They can also purchase cards that connect to Yoto’s library of music, activities, sound effects, and audiobooks from partners like Random House and the Roald Dahl collection. The speaker requires Wi-Fi. The NFC cards contain links to content stored on Yoto’s servers. It actually downloads content when it’s into the Yoto Player. Blank cards are customizable with your own MP3s, audiobooks, or anything you upload to Yoto’s server.
There’s free daily content, but Yoto is also selling an annual subscription service that delivers new audio cards to your house four times a year, which costs $94. That seems like a lot to pay compared to the catalogs of audiobooks and music readily available on the Kindle library or streaming services, but parents are paying for the peace of mind knowing that their kids won’t be listened to, or subjected to an overwhelming selection of potentially child-unfriendly content.
“As physical objects, [the cards] not only allow children to be in control of content, but also support learning and play, and for very young children also promote fine motor control development,” Pentagram’s Jon Marshall told Fast Company.