When it comes to high-tech gadgetry, you'd think networking hardware specialist Netgear (NASDAQ:NTGR) would have a commanding lead over toymaker Mattel (NASDAQ:MAT), but while both companies are branching out in new directions, where they're intersecting may actually have Barbie's parent in the lead.
Baby monitors have come a long way from the walkie-talkie-type devices that let you listen in on the coos and cries of your infant. Today they're part of the Internet of Things in a connected home that let you wirelessly watch your child on your computer, laptop, or smartphone whether you're at home, outside, or away. Yet for all their tech wizardry, they're really little more than remote viewers, which is why the surprising new developments from Mattel and Netgear are so innovative. They lift the baby monitor out of being just a static device that watches and listens and turn it into something that is interactive.
Security outside the home, and in the nursery
Netgear's Arlo Baby is a natural progression from its Arlo and Arlo Q home security cameras that it acquired back in 2012, which were marketed at the time under the VueZone brand. After significantly upgrading the hardware and networking capabilities, they were rebranded as Arlo and won industry plaudits. So it's really not such a stretch for Netgear to go from helping you watch your house and possessions to keeping an eye on your baby.
Shaped like a rabbit -- a small, Cyclops-like rabbit -- the Arlo Baby offers parents two-way talk and listen capabilities, night vision, and 1080p video. That's not much more than what you'll find on existing baby monitors on the market like the Summer Infant Baby Link camera or TrendNet's WiFi Baby Cam, and even its preloaded lullabies and ability to play your own music can be found on devices like the iBaby Monitor M6S. Its sensors monitor temperature, humidity, and air quality levels in the nursery as well as provide alerts when the baby moves, similar to features found on the Philips In.Sight monitor.
Where Netgear's device improves on existing monitors is combining them all into one product and then adding a few upgrades such as the ability to distinguish between a baby's cry and other sounds an infant might make, and note it in its audio alerts. It also records movement and sound and stores the clips in the cloud, allowing you to download them for free for seven days, and allows for expansion with five additional cameras being added for free, and up to 15 cameras total.
Technology doesn't come cheap, though, as an Arlo Baby will set you back around $250, or $300 if you add a dedicated 7-inch LCD viewer to it. Other accessories, including cat and Dalmatian designs, are also available.
This is definitely not a toy
More remarkable, however, may be what Mattel has achieved with its Aristotle by Nabi baby monitor. Essentially performing all of the same tasks as Netgear's Arlo, the toymaker's device is no toy.
Mattel entered the market in a roundabout way, acquiring last year for $21.5 million the bankrupt company Fuhu, which made the popular Nabi children's tablet. It unveiled the Aristotle at this year's Consumer Electronics Show, and though it will cost $299 when it becomes available this summer, it offers what appears to be superior functionality over the Arlo and other devices on the market.
Beyond the capabilities found elsewhere, the system is billed as the first artificially intelligent smart assistant for kids. Essentially an Amazon Echo or Google Home, the Aristotle device uses Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) programming and Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) processors to recognize your child's voice patterns, and as the child grows, it becomes more interactive. It can read stories, help a child learn the alphabet, and using Microsoft's Bing search engine, it can help a child search for answers to homework assignments.
Furthermore, Mattel has partnered with retailers like Target and Babies 'R' Us to take advantage of its ability to take note of nap and diaper change times, and to speed up orders of baby supplies that may be running low, like diapers or formula. It sees the device also becoming connected with other toys for a greater immersive play experience as well as partnering with other companies for additional capabilities.
Considering the opportunity for this "baby monitor" to develop into something much more than simply a static device to watch, listen, and monitor, as well as to last beyond a child's infancy, it would seem Mattel has jumped well ahead of Netgear and other companies trying to compete for a share of the playroom.
Teresa Kersten is an employee of LinkedIn and is a member of The Motley Fool's Board of Directors. LinkedIn is owned by Microsoft. Rich Duprey has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon.com and Qualcomm. The Motley Fool recommends Netgear. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.