There was a time when children were happy with a doll and an orange from Santa. Now toy maker Mattel has announced the Barbie doll is to get a tech makeover to keep it down with the kids. In Barbie's biggest re-hash since 1959, the 'Barbie Girl' is an MP3 player that can also connect to a live BarbieGirls.com site - where a Second Life -esque virtual character will appear for each player.
The site will have word filters so young girls don't start slagging each other off with unsavoury lingo or exchanging personal info. Plus it has 'robust moderation'. Those who sign up will be able to play ridiculously simplistic games and chat.
The MP3 player is doll shaped (quelle surprise) and has 512MB of memory, so enough for the needs of most bright young things. However, it also has a miniSD slot to take cards up to 2GB. DRM isn't in Barbie's lexicon, so it'll only play unprotected MP3 or WMA files. Windows XP and Vista are supported.
"The Barbie Girls experience is like no other because girls are in control at every level," said Chuck Scothon of Mattel. "We set out to create a platform that is truly revolutionary to transform how girls interact with music, fashion and the online world. Barbie Girls is the result of listening to what girls want, researching how they play and fusing it with the right technology to deliver a completely new experience."
Analysts do expect big things from the new product. "If Mattel 's online community is successful, we estimate maximum annual sales potential of about $100 million," said Linda Bolton Weiser of New York's Oppenheimer & Co. investment firm in a client note.
However, it's been a tough few months for Mattel which has seen US Barbie sales decline by a fifth this year. But, the new player isn't the end of the traditional Barbie - something Mattel is keen to stress.