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Disney’s Netpal Offers More than the Bear Necessities to Computer-Savvy Kids

The mouse may be dead to many netbook users, but if Disney has anything to do with it, The Mouse will remain alive and well for young technophiles.?? This week, Walt’s little company announced that it has collaborated with the unfortunately-named ASUS to launch the Disney Netpal.

It’s touted as “a netbook computer for children that’s fun, web-safe and easy to use.” It hits the shelves in July at around $350. ??I question the “truly magical” part of the promised experience, unless Tinkerbell is going to shoot out of the USB port and send me flying over London, but it’s a pretty well-conceived and well-branded gadget targeting kids between six and 12. Designed by Disney’s Toymorrow (seriously) team of experts, the Netpal, despite having a lame name, offers more cool, age-appropriate, branded stuff than you can shake a singing candlestick at. ??Easy to get up and running, the Netpal is designed with an intuitive, kid-focused interface. Out of the box, the browser fires up a number of Disney website favorites. The Disney Magic Desktop features a 2D gadget tray and a Radio Disney widget that streams real-time music and allows kids to submit their own song requests. The webcam is, not surprisingly, shaped like Mickey’s head. No word on whether parents will have the option of loading the netbook with digital movies from the Disney video catalog.

In addition to offering a choice of Princess Pink or Magic Blue skins, the Netpal gives kids the opportunity to co-create Disney-themed content and customize their desktop with a variety of favorite Disney characters and properties, including Cars, fairies, princesses, Toy Story, WALL-E, Hannah Montana, and (SQUEAL!) the Jonas Brothers (SHRIEK!). ??The most interesting elements on the branded content end are Disney Mix and Disney Pix, two applications for music, media and photo management. Within Disney Pix, kids can use Disney Bobblehead software (think JibJab for Mouseketeers) to insert images of their faces on top of bodies and integrate them into videos. Hey, who better than Disney to empower the next generation of film animators?

Disney knows that parents aren’t just going to let their precious offspring merrily march off into the web without a firm grasp on their hands, so plenty of parental control options are included in the Netpal. And to lessen the chance of parental freakout, the Netpal has kid-friendly design perks, including a spillproof keyboard and durable shell. ??We’ve written about the Disney brand expanding into new markets before, and the Netpal is another smart extension.

The last time the brand tried to enter the home computing market was in 2004 with the dorky, ill-conceived ($900) Dream Desk. But now Disney has the potential to grab a Beast-sized share of one of the hottest segments in the electronics market. Most of the gripes that adults have about the wee notebooks — smaller keyboards, monitors, memory and storage — are what make them ideal for the 6-12 age range. The computer-type products currently offered by VTech, Leapfrog and Mattel may take the form of laptops, but none have the media management and Internet functionality of the Netpal. Add to that the ability for kids to customize their Disney brand experiences, co-create original content and access online Disney properties, and the Netpal is perfectly eqipped to introduce a generation, safely, to a whole new world.*

*fez-wearing monkey sold separately


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