iPad 2. Kindle Fire. Android Tablet X. Popular gifts, all. In fact, odds are a bunch of you are stuffing stockings with them right now. But if we define popularity as how many casualties the war between supply and demand leaves behind, only one tablet stands out this month.
It's slow, it's bulky, it has barely a hundred apps to its name. It has no native email, it requires a stylus, its graphics are just a notch above Etch-a-Sketch. And you can't find one anywhere.
The hottest tablet this holiday season? It's the LeapPad. You know, for kids.
You're forgiven for not being intimately familiar with LeapFrog's LeapPad Explorer. It only went on sale mid-August, and if you're over the age of nine you're not really in its target demo. If you were, you'd laugh and cringe at its specs: a 480x272 display, 400Mhz processor, 2GB onboard storage, runs on AA batteries. If Samsung's tablets are Galaxies, the LeapPad is a dwarf star.
But to the parents plunking down their MasterCards, this little "learning tablet" aces the only two specs that matter: cost ($100) and durability (extreme). If you give a kid an iPod Touch, they will break it, but only after running up huge iTunes charges on your credit card and stumbling across horrible donkey porn in Safari. If you give a kid a LeapPad, they can drop it all day and (within reason) it won't break. And because the tablet can only tap into a tightly controlled ecosystem of educational apps and game cartridges, the most scarring thing Bobby Sue will encounter is SpongeBob Squarepants.
If it sounds like the perfect gift for a kid who's too young to be trusted with expensive hardware and the great wide open internet, that's because it kind of is. At least, that was my thinking when I decided to get one for my three-year-old, iPod Touch-obsessed niece this Christmas. And then found out that every other uncle in America had the same idea sometime last week.
Because there are no more LeapPads. Not at any of the seven listed retail partners at the LeapFrog website. Not at LeapFrog.com, where the only option left is a $200 bundle—which is also sold out.
In fact, the one place that I could find a certifiably new LeapPad was at Amazon, where third-party vendors are offering it at a generous 100% markup. It's just like the HP TouchPad firesale, except the exact opposite. Obviously more iPads and Kindles will be sold in December. But they're also in much, much more comfortable supply.
So enjoy the easy pursuit of your Kindle Fires, your iPad 2s. Just remember that while you're on a genteel fox hunt, some of us will shooting for bigger game in the wild back aisles of Toys R Us and Kmart. The LeapPad might be child's play, but finding one these next two weeks will be anything but.