In its 52 years, Bose Corp. has built high-end sound systems for audiophiles, airline pilots, football coaches, and soldiers, but never for children — until now.
The company’s new BOSEbuild Bluetooth speaker is designed to tap the up-and-coming market for toys that teach basic concepts in science, technology, electronics, art, and mathematics. The $149 BOSEbuild kit is designed for children 8 and older. With help from a free app for Apple’s iPhone or iPad, a child can assemble his or her own mini-audio system and learn some basic principles of acoustics along the way.
“Quite frankly, it’s an untapped market opportunity,” said Joe Titlow, head of sales and marketing for BOSEbuild. Indeed, the speaker emerged from a development lab created by Bose three years ago in a quest for profitable new products.
Educational toys made up 2 to 5 percent of the $26 billion Americans spent on toys last year, according to industry analyst Juli Lennett at the market research firm NPD Group. Lennett said that rising demand for brainy playthings is outstripping overall growth for the entire toy industry.
“We’re seeing these products more and more,” said Adrienne Appell, a toy trend specialist for the Toy Industry Association in New York. Appell said that parents are eager for playthings that will spur interest in science and technology. In addition, the falling cost of electronic components make it possible to build technically advanced toys, and sell them to consumers at relatively low prices.
BOSEbuild, which can be purchased at Bose’s website or on Amazon.com, is a radical departure for the Framingham company, which is known for its high-end home audio gear and noise-cancelling headphones. But Titlow said that Bose designed the product to meet its traditional standards.
“We wanted to do something for kids, but we knew immediately we didn’t want to follow the typical model for consumer products for kids,” Titlow said. “They’re often poor-performing, cheap plastic things we didn’t want to be associated with.”
Titlow said BOSEbuild features a high-quality speaker just like those used in many Bose commercial products and an advanced digital chip set. But the child must plug the components together and fit them inside a translucent plastic case.
Assembling BOSEbuild is, sure enough, child’s play. But the user must first go through a step-by-step tutorial on the basics of audio engineering, delivered through an iPhone or iPad. A version for Android devices has not yet been developed.
The kit includes a magnet and a copper coil that plugs into the BOSEbuild control unit. These two simple objects are transformed into a primitive speaker by signals transmitted from the iPhone. Users learn how to make a louder speaker by taping the magnet to the BOSEbuild box, so the entire cardboard surface resonates with sound.
There are also instructions on how to build a simple speaker enclosure, using the magnet, the coil, and some paper.
All the while, the app provides basic training in audio concepts like frequencies, waveforms, and sound equalization.
Once a user masters all this, he or she can quickly assemble the BOSEbuild speaker and start playing tunes by connecting it with any Bluetooth-equipped audio system, phone, or computer. The control unit contains multicolored LED lights that can be programmed to flash in time with the music.
Unlike many small Bluetooth speakers, BOSEbuild doesn’t run on batteries and must be plugged into a wall outlet, limiting its mobility. And $149 is a lot of money for a Bluetooth speaker these days, especially one you have to build yourself.
But Titlow said BOSEbuild has gotten “a tremendous early response.” And he added that Bose engineers are working on five or six additional BOSEbuild products. Titlow wouldn’t say what the devices will do. But they’ll all be designed to teach as well as to entertain.
“If we can get kids at this age to get just a little bit more excited about science and technology,” Titlow said, “we hope it pays dividends for the rest of their lives.”