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Sphero slashes 45 jobs, pivots to educational market after weak holiday sales of iPhone-connected robots

Sphero, the producer of iPhone-controlled toys and programmable robots, has laid off a number of its staff following reportedly lackluster sales over the holiday period, with the firm intending to realign itself more towards the educational robotics market.

Approximately 45 jobs were cut by the firm globally, reports TechCrunch, and though offices in the U.K. And Hong Kong were affected, the majority of layoffs took place at its headquarters in Colorado. The layoffs do not appear to have affected any one specific department in particular, with the staffing changes said to have affected departments all across the company.

"We restructured our team on Friday to better align with our product needs," a spokesperson told the report. "As we look to our product development schedule for 2018 and beyond, we weren't going to go that deep, so we had to make some changes for how the teams were structured."

Known for its product line of ball-shaped rollable robots, it was expected that Sphero would achieve high sales over the holiday period, with the firm shipping app-controlled versions of the R2-D2 and BB-9E droids from 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' to accompany the blockbuster movie's release. The spokesperson admitted to the report sales weren't "exactly what we expected," suggesting the lower revenues had some influence in the pivot.

As part of the restructuring, Sphero will be shifting more of its resources away from commercial products, like the 'Star Wars' droids, and into its existing educational business. Using its hardware from its other products, the company previously offered education-focused versions for use in schools, a market that was overshadowed by the commercial arm's success and its deals with Disney and other major firms.

The Sphero Edu platform provides a way for schools and for parents to teach coding and robotics to children, with it also offering packages to educational customers as a cheap and simple path into the field. This includes the Sphero Edu app, which offers various activities ranging from the basics of coding functions to JavaScript.

Some of Sphero's educational efforts have also featured in its mainstream releases, including two playgrounds for Apple's Swift Playgrounds app that teach users how to control a Sphero toy using Swift.

Sphero is confident in its ability to take on the educational marketplace, with the spokesperson claiming it to be "something we can actually own. Where we do well are those experiences we can 100-percent own, from inception to go-to-market." Despite the increased numbers of firms competing in the field, it is likely that Sphero's confidence is well-placed, considering its existing technology platform and hardware catalog that it can easily leverage.