Saturday, February 14, 2009

Bricks ain't what they used to be as Lego 'develops mobile phone'

By Sean Poulter
Last updated at 12:51 AM on 14th February 2009

Leaked images of what appears to be the world's first Lego mobile phone have appeared on the internet.

The brightly coloured Alcatel phone has been styled to look like as if built of red, blue and yellow Lego bricks.

Lego is known to be keen to enter the digital age and is planning to release a range of themed gadgets including a camera, MP3 player and walkie-talkies.

Lego mobile phone

All change: The internet image appears to show a mobile phone with Lego-like snap-on parts

To date, the company has steered clear of any announcements on plans to offer a mobile phone, raising suspicions that the images of the Alcatel device may be an elaborate hoax.

Any decision to use Lego to promote mobile phones to children would be highly controversial, given concerns about the impact of the technology on developing brains. The French government has recently announced a ban on the marketing of mobile phones to children.

The camera Lego is launching with Digital Blue

Snap on: The camera Lego is launching with Digital Blue

Lego's MP3 player

Plastic player: Lego's MP3 device

But Lego is hoping to tap into the trend for hi-tech toys among children.

The company has formed a partnership with Las Vegas firm Digital Blue to manufacture a range of Lego-based electrical goods which are a world away from its traditional toy bricks.

The fully functioning range of gadgets also includes alarm clocks and a so-called 'boom box' - an all-in-one CD and radio player.

The new products are aimed for children aged between seven and 11. The full range is set to hit British stores this summer and items will cost between £14 and £40. Exact specifications have yet to be released.

Digital Blue boss Tim Hall said: 'The line features fully functional digital cameras, MP3 players, walkie-talkies and USB drives that appear to be built from classic Lego bricks.

'We're extremely proud to team up with Lego, a highly regarded brand among generations of parents and kids throughout the world.'

It is part of a wider drive to update the image and appeal of Lego, which was founded in Denmark in 1932 and has been seen in some quarters as old-fashioned.

There was something of a row two years ago when Lego chiefs decided to allow its characters, such as Star Wars Stormtroopers and Batman villains, to carry replica guns for the first time.

The change was at odds with the original ethos of the product, but came about as part of a commercial decision to tie the Lego name to the latest blockbuster films.

Lego's Star Wars toys

Lego provoked controversy when it launched Star Wars toys complete with weapons

Lego advert from 1960

The old way: A Lego advert from 1960 shows children making plastic people and houses

Jill Wilfert, vice-president of licensing for Lego Group, claimed the new initiative to embrace gadgets would inspire young children.

'Our entrance into the youth electronics space will enable our fans to express themselves through photos, videos and music, while displaying their enthusiasm for one of the world's all-time favourite toys,' she said.

'It will help bring the Lego brand to life in an all-new way for its fans.'

The idea of putting digital still and video cameras into the hands of children was a big success last Christmas. The VTech Kidizoom Multimedia Digital Camera was among the bestsellers, despite a £50 price tag.

Lego, a family-owned firm based in Billund, Denmark, is world-renowned for its miniature brick-built designs which include cars, boats, planes and spaceships.

Derived from the Danish words 'leg' (play) and 'godt' (well), the company's play-well concept has turned it into one of the world's most famous brands.

Today, the firm estimates that children around the globe spend close to five billion hours a year playing with their products.

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