Intel, Mattel Breed New Climate
PORTLAND, Ore.--Up on the second floor of an old warehouse
building on a quiet corner in the trendiest part of town, Intel engineers build toys while
Mattel designers play with computers.
The world's largest toy company and the world's largest
computer chip maker hope that a marriage of their two distinct corporate cultures at a
secretive development lab will breed a new generation of high-tech toys.
"So we took the plunge and decided the best way to try
this was to put Intel and Mattel people in one place," said Jeff Abbate, director of
the joint Smart Toy Lab.
"I think we're doing a really good job of stealing with
pride from both companies what we think are the best things," he said.
The lab was opened after some casual, high-level talk
between former Mattel Chief Executive Jill Barad and Intel Chairman Andy Grove, who
decided to pool their corporate expertise in hopes of reaching the always fickle market of
children stretching from kindergarten to early teens.
With kids today becoming computer-literate at a very early
age, they are eager to play with toys that are more challenging and innovative. In fact,
many children stop playing with traditional toys such as dolls and board games by the age
of 6 in favor of techno-toys.
"The real focus is to create a whole new generation of
high-tech playthings that appeals to this generation of kids," said Mattel
spokeswoman Dana Henry. "They're embracing technology at a very quick pace. As
technology becomes a bigger part of their lives, it just makes sense that the traditional
toy and computer are starting to merge."
So far, the collaboration has produced a new brand label,
Intel Play, and four successful products. The first to hit the market last year was the
QX3 computer microscope.
The durable plastic-encased microscope can be used just
about anywhere, allowing children to roam wherever their curiosity takes them, and feed
the images back to a computer, where they can examine them or manipulate them in any
fashion they like.
And some think the $100 price tag is worth it.
"It's not really pricey any more in the toy
business," said industry analyst Jim Silver, editor of The Toy Book, a New York-based
trade publication. "Now it's price effective."
This year, Intel Play plans to offer three more products.
The lineup includes the Me2Cam computer video camera ($70) that can project a child's
image onto the computer screen, the Sound Morpher ($50), which lets kids record sounds and
then combine them on the computer, and the Digital Movie Creator ($100), a video camera
for capturing and editing video.
All will be shown at the American International Toy Fair,
the annual trade expo where toymakers feature their products for the coming year. It
begins Sunday in New York.
Analysts say both Intel and Mattel benefit from their
The Mattel computer software division lost $183 million in
the fourth quarter, dragging down overall Mattel earnings and leading to Barad's
resignation in early February.
The Intel label on Mattel products should help provide
assurances for parents looking for a quality electronic toy.
"It's almost like the Good Housekeeping seal of
approval that it will work," Silver said.
Chris Byrne, a toy industry consultant in New York, said
Intel will benefit from the retailing experience at Mattel and its advertising expertise
at the consumer level -rather than the manufacturing level where Intel has been focused.