The Old School Toy View-Master is Back & Taking Kids on a Virtual Reality Ride (Video)
Tomorrow (December 1), shoppers will be able to merge the old and new in an exciting new way, thanks to a partnership between toy manufacturer Mattel and Google, NASA, and National Geographic. More than 75 years ago, Mattel debuted a toy called the View-Master, and its framework was pretty straightforward, but at the time of its release, it was a revolutionary, high-tech gadget that quickly became a top seller. Essentially, the View-Master operated as a low-tech virtual reality system, allowing users to look into a stereoscope at images of various landscapes, which would appear in 3D. Naturally, with the advent of technology like IMAX, video games, and high-tech virtual reality, the View-Master’s appeal became less and less in favor with kids (and adults), but this holiday season it might make a return appearance on lists of the must-have toys, due to its 21st-century overhaul.
For $29.99, the new View-Master will supply children ages seven and up with the ability to self-immerse in far-off lands, including the ocean’s floor, outer space, and cities around the globe. It will work in conjunction with a smartphone and an app, and will be available at Walmart stores across the United States. According to a highly detailed feature in Ad Week, the new View-Master is, in many ways, a direct response to Google’s “Cardboard,” a 2014 invention that aimed “to encourage developers to build the next generation of immersive digital experiences and make them available to everyone.” It was then that Mattel’s COO Richard Dickson thought of View-Master in a new and exciting light. What then transpired was a collaborative relationship between the two companies, but it was Mattel who realized the highly saturated virtual reality market had a much-ignored demographic: children.
That aha! moment was quickly followed by some sound concerns, including the notion that “giving a VR device to a child will mean he or she chooses a digital world instead of human friends.” Mattel took that concern seriously, and is hoping that its decision to design the View-Master available only in handheld form (meaning no headphones or ability to strap it on the face) will discourage kids from being “cuddled up in the corner and never leav[ing] the house.” In addition, the toy will be marketed as an educational tool, giving kids the option of visiting three different environments: Destinations, Space, and Wildlife. For the latter two, Mattel joined forces with NASA and Nat Geo, and the technology is pretty cool. “Each pack contains a reel (designed to resemble the paper photo reels that the old View-Masters used) with a QR code in the center. Aiming the new viewer at the disk kicks off the ‘adventure’ via augmented reality animation, and pop-up text boxes feature explanations about the environments.”
Whether or not the toy will be a hit with kids has yet to be determined, but many argue that the power of nostalgia will drive many grown-ups to purchase the toy for their youngest loved ones, and it’s a safe bet plenty of adults will be trying the toy out themselves. Does the idea of a new View-Master make for an exciting premise, or will it be a fad that will be lost on today’s kids, the most plugged-in and tech savvy in history?