Toy Talk released its first app, The Winston Show, last week. It was immediately picked up as an Editors Choice in the App Store and climbed to the number one spot in the entertainment category over the weekend. Toy Talk says it is the first talk show to feature “user through speech recognition” and over six hours of recorded response content. In other words, the characters in the app ask questions, the kids answer, and the character bases its response on what the kids say.
I spoke with Toy Talk CEO Oren Jacob and Christine Schirmer, Head of Communications, to hear more about how The Winston Show was developed and the future plans for Toy Talk.
The mission of Toy Talk—and the new app—is to create entertainment through conversation. They want an interactive and responsive experience, not a passive one. The characters of Winston and his sidekick came from the desire to create a character that was entertaining and relatable, as well as inspired from the voice talent they found. When I pointed out that both characters are male, I was assured that they are integrating female characters into future updates.
Jacob describes The Winston Show as a “live Broadway show” in which he and his team are in a “continuous dance with the audience.” Half the dialogue is determined by the kids using the app, therefore new technology had to be developed just to support The Winston Show. The most challenging of these was in the speech recognition, which is can be difficult with kids. Jacob pointed out that as parents allow them to record the interaction between their kids and the show, Toy Talk has been able to continue improving the app’s ability to respond accurately.
The advancement of this technology is particularly exciting, and I think could have uses beyond entertainment.
When Toy Talk first started testing, they were most surprised that The Winston Show became an immediate medium of co-play; if one child in the house was playing it, then inevitably his or her siblings would try to join in and give suggestions. In fact, The Winston Show seemed to be producing active debates as to what reply should be given. I saw this myself when our family tried the app, one kid telling the other what to say or what to choose. In our house, this tended to be more of a cooperative effort to test the boundaries and patience of Winston, but the theory holds: Kids tend to develop their social and verbal skills through conversation, therefore can’t help but be drawn to an experience that allows them to practice those skills. Especially if it’s funny.
My 8-year-old son thought it was fun. He really enjoyed the “You Vs.” section of the app, where you are pitted against everything from a mosquito to Lewis & Clark to test your fact knowledge. “Win with Winston” had him hooting with laughter and thinking hard about his answers. He was entertained by the Writer’s Room, although it annoyed him that the story was set and would only move in a pre-determined direction.
My 4-year-old spent most of her time in the Costume Department, which she loved. She changed costumes and took pictures of herself over and over. Winston had a bit of trouble understanding her most of the time, but she lost most of her front teeth in an accident involving vigorous ballet so that may not be entirely the fault of the app. Also, he seemed to talk more than her attention span would handle. She enjoyed the Writers Room, too, though she had the same complaint her older brother did. My ten-year-old is apparently too cool to test apps and had no opinion on the subject.
Overall, The Winston Show is well-drawn, well thought out, and entertaining. I could see many kids delighting in being the center of attention and developing an affection for Winston’s silly sense of humor. If the Toy Talk team continues to add content and characters, as they intend, I have no doubt the initial success of this app will stretch into long term popularity.
The Winston Show is available for free in the App Store.