Google could boost education push with Launchpad Toys acquisition

Google already targets schools with Chromebook devices, the Apps for Education suite and the Classroom app

Google could strengthen its position in the education market with its acquisition of Launchpad Toys, maker of popular children apps like Toontastic which are used in classrooms.

"We're proud to announce that our little toy company is pairing up with a great big team of tinkerers to empower gajillions of playful storytellers around the world," Launchpad announced on its website on Wednesday. At the same time, it made all of its iOS apps free. The company hasn't yet made any apps for Google's Android ecosystem.

A motivation for the acquisition could be to boost Google's efforts to broaden its presence in schools. Last year, it launched the Classroom app for its Google Apps for Education suite to let teachers and students collaborate using Google services like Gmail, Drive and Google Docs.

Launchpad Toys would fit nicely into that strategy because storytelling app Toontastic and augmented reality video app Telestory are also meant to be used as resources for the classroom. For example, the apps can be used for creative writing exercises and science reports.

Education has also become one of the biggest markets for Chromebooks, the inexpensive, thin client laptops and desktops that run Google's Chrome OS and that are made by a variety of hardware vendors.

Google has also been trying to make its services more kid-friendly, as Pavni Diwanji, VP of engineering at Google told USA Today in December. Among the possibilities are a stand-alone YouTube site dedicated to children.

Becoming more kid-friendly makes sense for Google, said Joe Kempton, research analyst at Canalys. Getting young users familiar with a company's products and services is one of the reasons Google would focus on education, he said.

In the past, children would primarily use Windows PCs in schools but in recent years iPads also have become popular. This is a threat to other major players if kids become familiar with and attached to Apple products, said Kempton.

"We see Google also countering this by getting Chromebooks into schools," he said. This will make children more familiar with Google devices and services and makes it more likely they will use them in the future, Kempton said.

Another reason for the acquisition could be to help increase parents' trust in Google. "Google has had a lot of negative press in the past around the fact that children have been making in-app purchases on their parents' devices, spending large amounts of money," Kempton said.

However, a major concern is going to be security and privacy, said Kempton, adding that there is a lot of pressure on Google to get it right the first time when children are involved. Parents will likely be most concerned about how Google protects and manages their children's personal information.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed and Google declined to comment.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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