With faster communications, smaller chips and cheaper parts, the technology world is moving at an incredibly fast pace.

Consequently we’re using more technology than ever. According to Ofcom, 54% of UK households have a tablet, in comparison with 2% in 2011.

This means the gadgets we use are changing all the time as technology evolves - and it’s not just about phones, tablets and smartphones. Many more household items can now be controlled using the internet and even toys are connected.

As a parent it’s important to understand what new technology can actually do, including any potential risks to your child. Here are some emerging trends to be aware of.

Smart toys

Increasing numbers of toys can connect to the internet, such as My Friend Cayla, which answers questions.

Others like MiPosaur don’t connect to the internet, but can be controlled using apps.

If you are buying any connected toy, don’t just hand it over to your child, instead spend a bit of time reading the instructions to understand how it works and what it actually does.

Robot and robot dinosaur

VTech, which makes educational devices like tablets, was hacked in late 2015.  Although credit card details weren’t taken, children’s ages, dates of birth and names were breached. People with bad intentions could in theory use this data to build up a profile of children, putting them at risk of identity theft and worse.

Unfortunately security hacks are becoming more and more common, so make sure you change your password regularly. Read more in our article: How to spot scams and protect your identity online.

Ultimately if you are worried about smart toys consider whether your child really needs one.  If you don’t want to provide information about your child, such as their name or date of birth, don’t.

Robots

Robots have come a long way since 1980s favourite Omnibot - now robots can respond to children and help them learn.

The Meccano Meccanoid G15 KS (£124.99) is a four-foot tall robot that responds to voice commands and reacts to motion.  It takes five hours to build, and its makers hope it will inspire young people to develop engineering and computing skills.

Check it out in the video below.

This type of technology is also creeping into games. Anki Overdrive (£139.99) is a racing game with smartphones instead of controllers.  The cars use artificial intelligence to race, driving themselves and competing against you and each other.

Find out more in our article: Robots – friend or foe?

The Internet of Things

If you’ve heard the term the ‘Internet of Things’ (IOT) and thought, “What?”, you aren’t the only one. 

It’s a broad term for any device that can connect to your home network, such as Nest and Hive heating systems, BT’s Smart Home Cam 100 security camera, the iKettle and Philips Hue connected lighting system.

The majority of the IOT’s devices work with smartphone apps, which allow you to control them remotely using a phone or tablet. This means you can turn your heating off, check your security camera or even turn on the kettle without being at home.

Philips Hue phone app and lightbulbs

Many devices in the Internet of Things work together. In the USA, the Nest Cam works with the Philips Hue lighting system, so if it detects motion, it can turn on the lights.

Many IOT devices let you set a password so you can be sure your child can’t tamper with them and change the settings. 

Most security camera apps allow you to set a password, so you should be safe from someone logging on without permission and viewing your home.

Smartwatches

Crossing the line between fashion and tech are smartwatches.

To get the best from a smartwatch it needs to be connected to a smartphone, which it does using wireless Bluetooth technology.

The Apple Watch works with the iPhone, while the Moto 360 and Huawei W1 run Android’s operating system, so work with phones from other manufactures.

Notifications for calls, social media and messages are sent to the watch screen. Use the watch to make calls, get directions and compose messages using your voice.

Smartwatches use apps downloaded from the Google Play and Apple App Store, so make sure you check the age ratings of any apps your child may want to download.

Moto 360

For extra control, make sure any smartphone your child is using with a smartwatch is set up appropriately, so they can’t access inappropriate content.

Discover how to set up an iPhone or an Android device.

Check out our article: 3 things to do before giving your child a gadget.

Virtual reality

Virtual reality - or VR - has really come of age over the last few years. The Oculus Rift headset really caught the public’s imagination and the company was bought by Facebook in 2015.

The player puts on a headset that covers their eyes, displaying a game or experience on the inside of the headset. Sensors in the headset track movement in a realistic way, so you can move around the game, looking up, down and around. Headphones are worn to give an immersive experience.

HTC confirms pre-order date for Vive virtual reality headset

Set to be released this year, headsets like Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive need a powerful computer to work so are unlikely to make their way into homes any time soon.

Google Cardboard provides a much cheaper and accessible VR experience, via a £10 viewer made from cardboard. A smartphone slots in the front and you can play games using the free Cardboard app for Android and Apple.  

Samsung offers a similar experience with the Gear VR headset, the first in the UK aimed at everyday tech fans. Priced £95.99, it works with the Note 5, S6 Edge+, S6 and S6 Edge.

If your child is using a VR headset make sure you supervise what apps they use.

Activity trackers

The sports tech market is growing rapidly. Fitness trackers are cheap, simple ways to monitor your fitness.

They are worn around your wrist like the Fitbit Flex (£59.99), or clipped to your clothes like the Jawbone Up Move (£26.13).

Each tracker and band includes a sensor, which tracks your steps, calories, distance travelled and sometimes heart rate. Trackers connect via Bluetooth to a smartphone, allowing you to set goals and track activity.

Leapfrog LeapBand

The majority of fitness trackers aren’t aimed at children. Certainly it’s debatable whether fitness trackers that count calories are suitable for them, with some groups arguing that children shouldn’t count calories.

Exceptions include the LeapFrog LeapBand (£15.35) and iBitz PowerKey (£10), which encourage children to become active with games and rewards for doing more exercise.

 

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