GALO: With names like Snort, Fairfax, Milksop and Buck, who exactly are these creatures – can you tell us more about where the inspiration for them came from and their stories?

GN: Again, we didn’t want any part of this project to be predictable or boring, so we weren’t going to name the raccoon “Rocky.” We threw around a lot of names, and we chose the ones that made us laugh, Milksop being one of them. Some names are personally meaningful. Fairfax is the name of our co-founder Audry’s kids’ favorite market, where they never leave without getting a free cookie from the butcher. And Rochester is the name of my hometown. There was no other name in the world that would suit Buck so well, on account of the fact that he is a virile seven-point deer who happens to have a severe overbite.

GALO: The unique aspect of the toys is their level of interaction. A message can be sent from anywhere in the world by a parent, grandparent or another family member using their smartphone, with the capability of having the child answer back by pressing one of the two simple buttons in the back of the toy — an important communication factor when one is not near their child, whether due to work, running errands or other circumstances. What’s more is that family members can either use their own voice or distort it in a cartoon-like fashion. Can you tell us more about the unique features of this product and how it helps in developing a consistent relationship among family and children?

AH & GN: This product is simple by design. We didn’t want to overburden it with too many features, and you have pretty much nailed what the features are and what is their aim. The only thing I will add is that we designed the app so that it would be fun to use — we didn’t want to make a form of communication that felt like a chore on the parents end. It had to be fun for both so that the toy would get a lot of use.

GALO: How would you say your product differs from what is already out there in the marketplace, specifically for kids, and the robotic interactive technology that is being developed further each day (like the companion robot that can hold a conversation in 19 languages by Aldebaran)? Do you feel that these products in some respect isolate the individual instead of bringing them closer to another human being?

AH & GN: We can’t comment on Aldebaran’s technology specifically, but we absolutely think most interactive technology is too cold. And confusing! When we looked at other connected toys on the market, we were consistently baffled. We asked each other, “What exactly does this do and how is this in any way fun to use?” We almost never arrived at an answer. And the ironic thing is the “connectedness” of many toys just isolates kids behind a screen. We want to keep kids connected to their friends and family, to begin to formulate and sustain conversations.

GALO: What would you say to those naysayers who think that a product such as this one takes the child away from reality as well as one-on-one interaction? Would you propose that families only use this when they aren’t in the same vicinity as the child? In other words, do you think that technology can impair the capability of human interaction, and if so, how can people avoid this social problem with their children?

GN: We don’t view these toys as surrogate parents or entry level smartphones. Rather, we are in some measure redressing an unfortunate reality — families are scattered over the globe, and most parents work outside of the home. This toy is a playful way for those people to stay in touch with the kids they love. It was developed in part by a stay-at-home mother of three, Audry Hill. She is a very connected mother, very in love with her kids, always “plugged in.” I always saw this toy as something people would use to play with their kids remotely. She reminded me that it was a way to augment play, even if you were busy making dinner while your kid was perfecting their somersaults in the next room. Technology can at once enhance and impair the capability of human interaction. That is something that we both are keenly aware of. We don’t have the answer, but I think you avoid this problem, at least in part, by just being aware of it, being selective about how much you and your kids have devices in hand, and what kind of devices they have access to.

GALO: I know you had said that you didn’t want to overcomplicate things with this toy, but is there a reason why you decided not to go with a screen on the back of the toy, for instance that would enable video chat messages (like Skype), instead of just audio? Wouldn’t this connect the child with the parent or family member further?

AH & GN: For one thing, that technology comes at a higher cost to the consumer, and we wanted as many people as possible to be able to send Toymail. And there is something romantic and mysterious about just hearing a voice. It is what makes radio so nice to listen to.

GALO: What future do you envision for this product -– more mailbox creatures and interactivity levels, perhaps? Or maybe another line of products based off this one but focused on learning?

AH & GN: We have a lot of exciting ideas for products in the works. But we can’t really give away, well, anything.

GALO: You chose to go with crowdfunding for this project, setting the funding timeline at only 17 days. With less than two days to go, you currently have reached your goal of $60,000, and are in the stretch goal phase. However, things weren’t so sure just a few days ago, when you only had a bit over half of your goal met on Kickstarter. Would you still have gone through with the product line even if the entire goal had not been met on this crowdfunding giant? And can we expect to see these little mailmen creatures in stores?

AH & GN: We just reached our goal yesterday, but we would have gone through with production whether we met that goal or not. We have no plans to work with retailers. It is just a level of complication we don’t want to deal with, and so many people are shopping online these days that we have a market out there.

GALO: All in all, this is an exciting time in terms of technology (even for digital media!) and innovative products such as yours. What other products or ideas do you want to pursue in the near future — perhaps something centered on adults?

AH & GN: All of our product ideas are centered on kids for the foreseeable future, but they have the rare quality of being enjoyed by adults too, since our thing is to create ways for people to interact with kids remotely.

To learn more about Toymail, please visit the official Web site. If you wish to donate toward the Kickstarter campaign, please click here. The campaign ends on December 2, 2013.

Video Courtesy of Toymail and Kickstarter.

Cincopa WordPress plugin

Photos Courtesy of: Toymail Co.