If you have ever had to wrestle your iPad from your child’s clutches, you know that kids love playing on tablets and smartphones. The trend has not been missed by toymakers. They know that even before a child can read or speak, they have an affinity for these devices.
Enter the biggest trend at this year’s American International Toy Fair: toys that are either based on apps, or can be used with tablets and smartphones. The trend began last year, but this year the volume of products in this category will explode.
Some see the emerging trend as a way for toy companies to woo children back to their products, but others expect these technologies also can be used to enhance classic children’s play.
Whatever side you’re on, it is still too early to know what kids will think of these products and which ones will stand out in the crowd.
Already, several basic approaches to this market have sprung up. Some toymakers are using physical toys to interact with smartphones and tablets, while others are using apps to strengthen their brands by carving out a space for them in the virtual world. Another group is recognizing that these brands are an important pop culture phenomenon and are developing toys that bring these virtual characters and games to life in the real world.
Click ahead to see some ways tech, toys and tablets are melding together.
By Christina Cheddar-Berk
Posted 21 February 2012
Available: Fall 2012
Parents have long known there is a need to police their children on the Internet, but what should you do about your iPhone or iPad? Not only do the same dangers exist, apps present new risks, including the chance for your child to ring up big bills by making purchases within the apps they are using.
TechnoSource has developed an affordable Android-based tablet which allows parents to set up as many as eight distinct profiles and customize parental controls for each — great for parents with more than one child. The parental controls are easy to customize to protect children from common Internet dangers. The tablet also has bumpers to protect it from drops and rough play.
Talk about old meets new. Hasbro is revamping some of its classic board games, including The Game of Life and Monopoly, to incorporate the use of an iPad or iPhone.
Some of the features, such as a virtual spinner, offer players a nice special effect, but other features really improve the way the game is played. For example, in Monopoly players will be able to play virtual mini-games when they pull Chance and Community Chest cards.
The Game of Life is available now. Monopoly will hit stores in June and Battleship will come out in September.
Available: Fall 2012
Hasbro also will be joining forces with Zynga, the creator of games such as Farmville, Words With Friends and Mafia Wars, to collaborate on merchandise featuring the Hasbro and Zynga brand. The first products are due out this fall.
Manufacturer: Physical Apps
Available: May 2012
TheO shows you don’t have to be a big toy company to get into this category. TheO — which is exactly what it looks like, a soft foam ball that securely holds an iPhone or iPod Touch — was developed by a high school photography teacher who got an idea to put an iPhone or iPod in a ball to take advantage of the devices' accelerometer and shuffle functions. When students tossed the ball to each other, the images would shuffle. After the ball was caught, the student could look at the image on the screen and identify it. That’s a lot more fun than sitting in a dark room looking at slides.
But there are other applications, including a bowling game that allows you to roll the ball along the floor while the accelerometer translates the motions into the game.
When the ball becomes available in May, it will come with three apps; additional ones will be available for purchase at the Apple and Android stores.
Price: Most cost less than $20
WowWee is bringing an entire line of games to market that combine the use of tablets and smartphones with physical toys. Some of the collectible toys unlock new game content, while others are used to enhance the playing experience.
For example, in Alien Jailbreak, the game will create the battlefield on the screen of the tablet or phone based on what is within the camera’s field of vision. If you move the device or the game pieces, the landscape will change.
Manufacturer: Sound ‘n Light Animatronics
Price: $19.99 for 10-inch version; $34.99 for a 12-inch version
Available: Late 2012
Don’t feel bad if the first thing you want to do when you see Tom the Talking Cat is poke him in the stomach. It’s a common reaction among those who are familiar with the Talking Friends’ app, pictured here.
Sound ‘n Light Animatronics is working on toys that won’t disappoint. These plush versions of Tom will purr and sigh when they are poked, or talk back, allowing fans to act out the actions of the app in the real world.
No doubt, there are plenty of fans out there. OutFit7’s Talking Tom the Cat and other Talking Friends characters, such as Talking Ben, have been downloaded more than 300 million times and counting. In the app, the characters respond to every stroke and poke, and repeat back everything that’s said in fun, quirky voices. Fans have created more than 500,000 videos of their interactions with the characters and shared them on Facebook and YouTube.
Price: $3.99 to $24.99
Available: Summer 2012
No doubt, plenty of toymakers will be using apps to help support and build their brand. One example is Imperial, which is working with TCG, on ROXX, a collectible game likely to appeal to tween boys. The pieces can be collected, traded and played in a few different ways.
Imperial will be facing a lot of competition, as there are quite a number of collectible toys being introduced this year that are targeted to boys. But perhaps ROXX’s online component will help it to stand out.
Kids can scan the actual play pieces they collect and play with them virtually on their iPhones or iPads, or online at ROXXNation.com. The website will serve as a membership platform, where fans can compete with each other or find out about new activities.
It’s a model I’m sure we’ll see repeated often this year.
Manufacturer: Fantasma Toys
In recent years, we’ve seen toys that can be operated remotely using an iPod or iPhone. This zeppelin from Fantasma Toys can also act as a spy balloon, taking pictures from the air by using a smartphone.
The company also is coming out with a golf game this year, where the player swings the iPhone as if it were a club.
Talk about coming full circle. Last holiday season, Mattel had a lot of success with a board game version of the poplar Rovio app Angry Birds. This year, Mattel is bringing Angry Birds back to the tablet with a game that will combine physical toys that interact with a tablet.
That’s not all. Under its new Apptivity line, Mattel has several other items that work under this basic model — some use its popular toy brands. For example, the company demoed a Hot Wheels game: It uses a special toy car that races along a track that flashes across the tablet’s screen. Others are based on popular apps such as Fruit Ninja.
For younger kids, the company will introduce the Laugh & Learn Apptivity Monkey, a plush toy that can house an iPhone or iPod Touch. Babies can squeeze the toy’s hands and feet and interact with the app.
The product is a follow up to a case Fisher-Price sold last year that could be used to protect an iPhone or iPod while toddlers played with the devices. In July, Fisher-Price will have a case for the iPad, as well.
Price: $39.99 ($69.99 for a set of two)
Available: August 2012
Pop your iPhone or iPod touch inside the Lazer Tag Blaster and play on your own or with as many as 24 players. Your device’s screen becomes a viewfinder for targeting the red tip on opponents’ guns.
Manufacturer: Spin Master
Available: Fall 2012
Spin Master has a number of games that are operated by placing an iPhone or iPod Touch inside of a toy fishing rod, steering wheel or blaster. The Appfishing game, pictured here, uses the device’s gyro to sense the motion of the fishing rod, and a reel and casting button is connected through a special touch-pad technology. This gives the player the sense of casting the fishing line.
Manufacturer: Jakks Pacific
Available: Summer 2012
Last year, Jakks Pacific sold an auto-tuning microphone based on the I Am T-Pain app. Now the company has its sights set on another popular musical app: Songify, a top-selling app developed in part by YouTube stars the Gregory Brothers.
The toy will work pretty much the same way the Songify app does: Speak into the toy, and once you’re finished, your speech is turned into a song and accompanied by pre-written background music. If you like it, save it and play it back whenever you want.
For fans of the I Am T-Pain Mic, a new “gold” edition will be released with built in-beats.
Jakks also is doing several other things in the “app” space, but one thing that stood out was that it is now planning to release version of its “Plug It In & Play” videogame line with touch screens so gamers can touch, drag and point.
These inexpensive games are great for families that find game consoles and software too pricey. These units are self-contained and simply have to be plugged into the A/V jacks of a television. The touch-screen games slated to be introduced this year include games based on Star Wars, SpongeBob SquarePants or Spider-Man. Each will retail for about $20.