Barbie and Hot Wheels are riding into the Internet age.
Mattel Inc. said Tuesday it will launch a line of computers tied to its popular doll and toy car brands, the latest move by the world's largest toy maker to expand its high-tech offerings.
The company announced a licensing agreement with Patriot Computers to produce brightly colored personal computers for $599 - including the central processing unit, monitor and 20 software titles. The new computers will go on sale Sept. 15.
"The whole toy industry is moving toward technology and this is just the latest example of that," said Chris Byrne, a toy consultant. "These computers pair Mattel's best-known brands with a very affordable PC. That's bound to attract buyers."
Mattel's entrance into the computer market comes as the El Segundo, Calif.-based company aggressively pursues opportunities outside traditional toys, like CD-ROMs and high-tech gadgets, which children today seem more interested in playing with than dolls and action figures.
In recent years, Mattel has seen tremendous growth in its lineup of software and CD-ROMs, while demand of its Barbie dolls have been on the decline.
In June, Mattel Media accounted for six of the top 10 best-selling software titles focusing on personal enrichment, according to research firm PC Data. Mattel Media includes products from The Learning Company, an educational software firm that Mattel acquired earlier this year.
While its software sales are strong, Mattel hopes its new computers will help it grab a piece of the fast-expanding cheap PC market. Almost 71 percent of all PCs purchased retail in June sold for under $1,000, compared with 46 percent of sales in the same month a year ago, PC Data said.
"We are making technology affordable for the masses," said Cynthia Neiman, vice president of marketing for Mattel Media. "Where else can you get a computer, monitor and software for under $600?"
With its low prices, Mattel is targeting not only those families buying their first computer, but also those looking to buy a second home PC. According to ZD InfoBeads, a research firm in La Jolla, Calif., 65 percent of U.S. households with children own a computer.
"More and more, consumers have a powerful computer for all of the household activities, and want a cheaper computer for a specific member of the family, like the kids," said Matt Sargent, an analyst at ZD InfoBeads. "This fits perfectly into that market."
Each full-sized computer will include a 333 MHz Intel Celeron processor, 15-inch monitor, 56K modem, a 3-gigabyte hard drive and a Windows 98 operating system. While it is hardly the most powerful computer on the market today, analysts said it rivals that of other PCs in its price range, such as the popular eMachines and Compaq Computer's low-end model.
|The Barbie computer also comes with a digital camera.|
The package also includes the popular Barbie digital camera, a Barbie mouse and a CD holder.
The blue and gold Hot Wheels PC comes with 20 titles such as Hot Wheels Stunt Track Driver, Hot Wheels Customer Car Designer and Compton's 3D World Atlas. The package also includes a Hot Wheels steering wheel.
Mattel said the library of software loaded on each PC has a retail value of approximately $500. Copies of the software will also be provided.
The new computers will be sold exclusively through Patriot, a privately held Canadian direct-seller of computers, and two Web sites, at www.barbiepc.com and www.hotwheelspc.com. The computers will not be available in stores.