Toniebox and Tonies®
Toniebox and Tonies® Review
Not all learning and entertainment require a screen. You can’t get much simpler than a Toniebox, a plush square with ears to control volume. Squeezing the big ear makes the audio louder; the smaller ear reduces the volume. A target area atop waits patiently for Tonies, little magnetic, plastic figures that trigger content associated with the figure. For children, Tonies are magical.
What we like
- Whimsical and magical
- Easy to use for children
- Plush and forgiving
- Huge inventory of content available through Tonies to keep children engaged
Setting up a Toniebox takes about five minutes using the associated app. Set-up requires WiFi, as does the introduction of new characters which act more as pointers to content than content stores. When a new one arrives, it communicates with the cloud to download its content to the Toniebox. After that, the Toniebox is fully independent of the Internet.
And that is one of the appeals of the Toniebox, no interaction, no hackability. It’s tech, but it’s not constantly connected tech, and children need not be constantly connected to use it.
A child simply places a Tonie atop the Toniebox, and it begins to play. As described above, the ears act as volume control. Tapping the box changes tracks, tilt to fast forward or rewind.
For kids, the three images above constitute the only user manual they need.
The Toniebox is a durable plush. It’s friendly and cute. The wide variety of licensed content means there will likely be a Tonie or two or five or ten to engage every child’s imagination. Examples include Disney characters, Disney Princesses, Cocomellon, Pepa Pig, DC’s Batman and Wonder Woman, and Dr. Seuss. My granddaughter’s favorite, at the moment, is Doc McStuffins.
Tonieboxes capture the magic possible with technology, not reliant on screens or complex user interfaces. The Toniebox and Tonies just do what they were designed to do—and in a way, that is also a kind of magic. For parents who don’t always want to experience the magic, the Toniebox includes a standard headphone jack for private listening.
Creative Tonies allow owners to upload up to 90 minutes of music or stories of their own making. I was not able to test this feature, but I will add additional notes should a creative Tonie enter our collection.
An app controls set-up and Tonie management, as well as content loading for creative Tonies.
Tonies, the company, didn’t stop at boxes and characters. They also sell a variety of accessories, from night lights to protective covers and carrying bags, to headphones and wall shelves.
As an analyst, I have to look beyond the magic, so I also offer a few notes that follow.
What could be improved
- Tonies are expensive and are rarely discounted
- Inconsistencies in quality and quantity of content on Tonies
- Tonies easily mistaken for other plastic figures in a child’s play environment
- Website hard to navigate
- No Qi charging
The Toniebox is a razor; at least, that is how business schools would see it. The money to be made by team Toniebox isn’t in the speakers; it’s in the Tonies. Each Tonie runs about $18. Compared to other content, I think they are overpriced. Value perception also comes into play with inconsistent content implementation.
Some of the Tonies, for instance, are chock full of deep content, and some arrive with more generic experiences. The Disney Doc McStuffins Tonie, for instance, includes 35 minutes of stories and songs. The Olaf Frozen Tonie includes 32 minutes of content, but three of the pieces of content are instrumentals. The Fantasia Mickey Tonie, which is adorable, only contains one story and some classical music.
Because the Olaf character lives in a fairly limited world, children have some expectations about what Olaf will do initially. Olaf does not sing “In Summer” or “Some Things Never Change.” Rather, Olaf draws from the shorts with “When We’re Together” and “Making Today a Perfect Day,” which are not as well known. “In Summer” is provided only as an instrumental.
The primary discount mechanism for Tonies is the bundle, but that offer aims at first-time buyers. I would like to see the company also offer Tonies characters in themed bundles at reduced rates. An example would be all the characters from Frozen or all the Disney Princesses.
Tonies also look a lot like every other character in a child’s play space, meaning they can easily end up in the mix of items quickly tossed into a toybox. At bedtime, there may occasionally be a rampant search-and-find mission to reunite a Tonie with the Toniebox. Perhaps a lesson from Apple’s AirTag and its chirp would help locate misplaced Tonies more quickly.
I would also like to see the Tonies website become more functional, with search and filters that more effectively reflect the content categories. The website scrolling experience is also suboptimal. As they say with dogs that misbehave, “Good thing you are cute.”
The Toniebox employs a weighted USB charger for power. The wireless Toniebox top deserves a wireless bottom. The Toniebox would benefit from Qi charging, which would add ease of charging to ease of play—and empower its actual users, children, to keep it charged when forgetful parents forget. Removing that lower indented power structure would also make for an even more appealing box design.
Toniebox and Tonies: The bottom line
My nearly 4-year-old granddaughter loves her Tonies and Toniebox. Her older cousins also enjoy it. She would like to have more Tonies, but the $18 per Tonie price keeps her collection small. Tonies created a device that appeals to its audience in ways many adult products do not. A few improvements, like wireless charging, would make it even better.
I get the cost of licensing content, but if they could get the price of Tonies closer to $10, I think they would make up in volume what they rely on today in margin. And some of the Tonies clearly don’t cost the company as much in content licenses as others, so perhaps variable pricing to reflect the value of the content associated with particular Tonies should be considered.
Tonies provided the Toniebox for review. Images courtesy of Tonies unless otherwise noted.
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