LeapFrog logo since 2008
|Traded as||NYSE: LF|
|Headquarters||Emeryville, California, US|
LeapFrog Enterprises Inc NYSE: LF (commonly known as LeapFrog) is an educational entertainment company based in Emeryville California. LeapFrog designs, develops, and markets technology-based learning products and related content for the education of children from infancy through grade school. The company was founded by Michael Wood and Robert Lally in 1995. John Barbour is the chief executive officer of LeapFrog.
The history of LeapFrog traces back to the late 1980s when LeapFrog co-founder Michael Wood, an attorney at Cooley LLP, had difficulties teaching his son how to read. After finding no phonics based educational toys, he began researching phonics and marketing while continuing as a partner at Cooley. By 1994, Wood had developed the first prototype of what would become Phonics Desk, LeapFrog's first product. The prototype utilized a Texas Instruments chip that was previously used by one of Wood's clients to develop talking greeting cards. Wood solicited feedback on his prototype from Robert Calfee, an expert on children’s reading development and a professor of education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education.
Wood used Calfee's feedback on his prototype to redesign the toy over the next few months. This second prototype became the Phonics Desk and Wood began manufacturing the toy in 1995. That year, Wood resigned as a partner at Cooley LLP and founded LeapFrog Enterprises with Robert Lally. The company received $800,000 in seed funding from friends, family, and former clients of Wood. Toys "R" Us became the first major retailer to carry the Phonics Desk shortly before Christmas 1995. Other retailers such as FAO Schwarz and Target later began carrying the toy.
Expansion and acquisition by Knowledge Universe: 1997-2002
LeapFrog had distribution in over 10 countries and a number of major clients in the US by early 1997. In March of that year, the company hired Brad Crawford, who formerly worked for Little Tikes, to oversee sales and manufacturing. Knowledge Universe acquired a majority stake in LeapFrog in October 1997. Knowledge Universe is an education company founded by brothers Lowell and Michael Milken, Larry Ellison, and Tom Kalinske. LeapFrog subsequently merged with Knowledge Universe's Knowledge Kids division. Kalinske, a former executive at Mattel, became LeapFrog chief executive officer as a result of the merger.
LeapFrog acquired Explore Technologies in August 1998. Explore Technologies produced the Odyssey Globe, an interactive globe that could call out the names of countries when users touched the globe with a specially designed stylus. Explore Technologies' stylus technology was later used in LeapFrog's LeapPad, a learning tablet that sounds out words when users drag a stylus across a word in LeapPad books. The LeapPad launched in 1999 and became Leapfrog's flagship product. It was the top selling toy in the US for the years 2001-2002 and books and accessories for the device were the best selling toy in the US in 2003. LeapFrog opened its LeapFrog Schoolhouse division, which markets LeapFrog products directly to schools, in 1999.
Going public: 2002 - present
LeapFrog co-founder Michael Wood became the company's chief executive officer in early 2002. In July, LeapFrog went public on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol LF. Knowledge Universe retained majority control of the company following the initial public offering. Sega Toys and Benesse also began producing LeapFrog toys localized for the Japanese market in 2002. LeapFrog products were sold in more than 25 countries by 2003. Tom Kalinske was appointed LeapFrog chief executive officer following Michael Wood's retirement in February 2004. Kalinske had previously served as LeapFrog's chief executive officer from the company's acquisition by Knowledge Universe in 1997 until early 2002. Wood was retained as the company's chief creative officer. Jeffrey G. Katz replaced Kalinske as LeapFrog chief executive officer in 2006. Katz was previously the founding chairman and chief executive officer of Orbitz and had served on the LeapFrog board for a year prior to becoming the chief executive officer of LeapFrog. Kalinske remained vice chairman of LeapFrog.
LeapFrog discontinued the LeapPad and released its Tag Reading System in June 2008. Tag became LeapFrog's flagship product and was a successor to the 10 year old LeapPad. The company released its Leapster2 portable learning system and its Didj educational handheld game console in July 2008.
William "Bill" Chiasson replaced Jeffrey Katz as LeapFrog president and chief executive officer in March 2010. Chiasson had most recently served as LeapFrog chief financial officer. Katz was appointed to the newly created position of executive chairman of the board. LeapFrog also released the Leapster Explorer educational handheld game console in 2010. The Leapster Explorer was the successor to the Leapster2, and was targeted toward older children. The console supports online game play as well as learning apps, e-books, and videos. John Barbour was named the chief executive officer of LeapFrog in March 2011. Barbour previously served as an executive for Toys "R" Us and RealNetworks.
LeapFrog released the LeapPad Explorer educational tablet computer in 2011. The LeapPad Explorer was designed for children aged four to nine and contained a five-inch touch screen, camera, microphone, and both downloadable apps and cartridge-based games. In 2012, LeapFrog released its updated LeapPad2 and LeapsterGS. The LeapPad Ultra tablet computer and LeapReader were launched in 2013. The LeapReader is an electronic reading and writing and writing system that succeeded the Tag Reading System which only taught reading skills.
LeapFrog's product portfolio focuses on three main families of products: reading solutions, educational gaming and grade school products and learning toys. Notable products include:
- LeapBand - A wearable activity tracker for children aged 4-7. LeapBand is a wristband that gives commands like "wiggle like a worm" or "pop like popcorn." Children accrue points by completing these tasks and playing games included with the tracker. Points can be redeemed to unlock new content on the device.
- LeapReader - A specially designed stylus that reads audio books aloud and teaches basic writing skills. The device is similar to LeapFrog's Tag Reading System, although the Tag system did not teach writing skills as does LeapReader. LeapReader was released in July 2013.
- LeapPad Explorer/LeapPad2/Ultra/LeapPad3/Ultra XDi Tablets- The second line of LeapPad products are personalized learning tablets designed for children ages 4 to 9. When children set up the LeapPad, they enter their grade level and LeapPad automatically adjusts its games and applications to that grade level. The existing library of Leapster Explorer game cartridges and apps is cross-compatible with LeapPad. LeapPad Explorer was released in August 2011. The LeapPad2 was released in August 2012. The LeapPad3 and LeapPad Ultra XDi were released in 2014.
- Leapster Explorer - A portable learning system for children ages 4 to 9 with a large library of cartridge games and downloadable learning apps, including e-books, videos, games and flashcards. The original Leapster was released in 2003. The company subsequently released the Leapster 2 and Leapster Explorer. The Leapster GS was released in August 2012.
- Tag Reading System - A specially designed stylus that has a small infrared camera at the tip that "reads" letters, words and symbols printed on the special dot-patterned pages of books in the Tag library. The system is designed to help children ages 4 to 8 learn to read. The company released Tag Junior, a system designed for children ages 1 to 4, in 2009.
- My Pal Scout - A customizable plush toy that can be programmed with various songs and the owner's name and preferences. Additionally, LeapFrog produced various other toys, including toy vehicles, interactive plushes and toys for the infant market. LeapFrog later released Read with Me Scout, a plush toy that can read aloud books from its product line.
- The original LeapPad – A series of now-discontinued educational devices. The products in this family varied in design, but all accepted an insertion cartridge to be used with a book that was placed in the device. The cartridge was activated when a child used a specially designed stylus to touch pictures, words, and shapes in the book. The device would then sound out touched word, name the shape, or relay information about the picture. The LeapPad was LeapFrog's flagship product from 1999 until it was discontinued in late 2007 (early-mid 2008 outside the US). It was replaced as LeapFrog's flagship product by the Tag reading system.
Leapfrog also develops educational applications for smartphones. These apps include:
- 'Scout's ABC Garden' App - An iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad application that was released in April 2011. he app encourages children to explore letter names and sounds step-by-step, and each child's experience can be customized based on his or her name, favorite food, favorite color and favorite animal.
- Creativity Camera - An iPhone and iPod Touch application that allows children to take and edit pictures. The application also contains an augmented reality game where users can take pictures of imaginary fairies. Creativity Camera comes with a child-friendly phone case that is shaped like a camera. The app and phone case were launched in 2013.
- Mr. Pencil: Learn to Write - An iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad application that works with a stylus accessory to teach users basic writing skills. The app was released in 2013.
Licensing and partnerships
In addition to producing their own toys, LeapFrog also licenses their characters (the Leapfrog Learning Friends) to third parties:
- Kiddieland Limited produces ride-on toys, tricycles and scooters
- Masterpieces Puzzles produces jigsaw puzzles
- Learning Horizons produces books and various stationeries
LeapFrog also has partnerships with various companies:
- Sega Toys and Benesse produce localized version of the toys for the Japanese market.
- Macromedia co-developed the Leapster handheld gaming console.
- Lionsgate Home Entertainment has produced LeapFrog Learning DVDs series of educational DVDs since 2008, beginning with Let's Go To School. Porchlight Entertainment produced all LeapFrog Learning DVDs prior to 2008.
LeapFrog Learning Friends
LeapFrog has developed various characters for use in house, and eventually licensed the characters for use in third party products. These characters are collectively known as the Leapfrog Learning Friends. LeapFrog continues to develop new characters and has expanded character placement across products and content. Characters include Leap, Lily, Tad, Mr. And Mrs. Frog, Mr. Websley, and Professor Quigley.
In 2003, LeapFrog marketed an animated DVD, Letter Factory & Talking Words Factory, whose purpose is to encourage young children to learn to read. More recently, they have expanded the series and there are now 16 different titles available.
LeapFrog was awarded the 2011 Toy of the Year Award, Instructor Magazine's 2011 Teacher’s Pick Award 2010, Parent's Best Toys, NAPPA Gold, 2010 Time to Play Award, Golden Apple Award and was placed on The Toy Insider's 2010 Hot 20 and FunFares's 2010 Hot Dozen lists.
- Letter Factory (2003)
- Talking Words Factory (2003)
- Math Circus (2004)
- Talking Words Factory II: Code Word Caper (2004)
- Learn to Read at the Storybook Factory (2005)
- A Tad of Christmas Cheer (2007)
- Let's Go to School (2009)
- Math Adventure to the Moon (2010)
- The Amazing Alphabet Amusement Park (2011)
- Numbers Ahoy (2011)
- Sing and Learn with Us! (2011)
- Scout and Friends: Phonics Farm (2011)
- Scout and Friends 2: Number Land (2012)
- Scout and Friends 3: Adventures in Shapeville Park (2013)
- Scout and Friends 4: The Magnificent Museum of Opposite Words (2013)
- Letter Factory Adventures: The Letter Machine Rescue Team (2014)
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