Top Stories
Top Stories

Tech, gadgets and toys: 5 trends from NY Toy Fair

Tech toys and Star Wars dominate Toy Fair 2016

The annual New York Toy Fair offers a preview of the hottest trends in the toy industry, touting big names like Hasbro, Mattel, Lego and Crayola, and revealing up-and-coming toy makers.

From beloved brands like Marvel and Pokemon to break-out hits like Pie Face, the show gives a preview of what kids will be putting on their wish lists come the holidays.

"You will have everything from plush to board games that we've all grown up with and had in our lives, to new toys that incorporate tech, to innovations on top of toys, and probably almost everywhere a little bit of 'Star Wars' thrown in," Steve Pasierb, president and CEO of the Toy Industry Association, told CNBC.

Last year, the total economic impact of the toy industry — including wholesale, retail sales and jobs — totaled $77 billion, according to the TIA. Overall, the industry saw growth of 7 percent. Pasierb noted that the upward trajectory is expected to continue in 2016.

This year's fair wrapped up on Tuesday. Here's what you should expect to see on your kid's wish list this year:

1. Tech, robots and drones, oh my!

The drone craze has reached new heights this year, with companies competing to create the coolest flying toys. Some have added cameras to the devices, while others have opted to change the shape and material of drones.

One firm, Auldey Toys, has made its drones voice-activated. The company's newest Sky Rover helicopter flies and launches plastic missiles, all by voice command.

"You are going to see a lot of really cool tech, instead of tech tacked onto toys," Pasierb said. "So the things really now work and are integrated and are fun."

Entertainment robotics company Sphero has updated its popular miniature BB-8 droid for 2016, adding a device called Force Band, which allows users to control the bot with a wave of their hand.

"We are all about building these fun, app-controlled robots and building connected play experiences that really try to fuse both the digital play that kids are having on their smartphones and tablets with the physical world," Paul Berberian, CEO of Sphero, told CNBC. "We don't want to compete with the games on the tablet, we want to be part of them."

Drones and robots aren't the only items in the tech category. Silicon Valley-based Actev Motors is updating the traditional commercial go-cart, integrating Wi-Fi technology into the vehicle. The Arrow is a smart-kart that pairs with an app to allow parents to control the speed of the car and activate a safe, limited physical area in which their children can drive.


So-calked STEM and STEAM toys make up a rising trend in the industry. STEM products focus on teaching science, technology, engineering and math. STEAM toys seek to teach STEM-related ideas by using art.

"Companies have begun to understand if it's going to be educational, it has also got to be fun," Pasierb told CNBC.

MaKey MaKey sells kits that can turn bananas into a piano using alligator clips, connector wires and a USB cable. Kids are encouraged to invent their own models using a variety of fruits, foods, foil and even clay. The kit is compatible with multiple apps from the company, which allow children to make other musical instruments and even play computer games like Tetris and Pac Man.

Rhiannon Teeter | CNBC

Not all STEM and STEAM products are electronic, however. A newcomer to Toy Fair, Briana Gardell, who recently graduated from Lehigh University's Technical Entrepreneurship master's program, has created Goblies, a throwable and biodegradable paintball kit.

"[Goblies] are painless like a water balloon, but they create a colorful splatter like a paintball," Gardell told CNBC. "The product is sold as a kit that allows kids to make a hundred [Goblies] with food ingredients and cosmetic dyes, while learning about chemistry."

3. Classic and family play

While there are plenty of innovative toys and gadgets available for the coming year, a major theme, especially for younger children, is classic toys and family games.

"Traditional play and different kinds of traditional play patterns are really important, particularly for young kids," Pasierb said. "They need to learn how to play with blocks, color with chalk on the sidewalk, all of those things are not only fun but they have developmental benefits for kids. "

Classic toys like Slinky, Lincoln logs and Lego remain popular even in 2016. In fact, Lego saw its 11th consecutive year of sales growth in the United States.

Products like Props in a Box, Spicy Games and Pie Face are designed to bring families together for play and foster imagination as well as friendly competition.

4. The ultimate collector

A long-standing trend in the toy industry is collectibles.

"Kids gravitate to collectibles for a number of reasons," Jackie Retzer, assistant marketing manager with TIA, said. "Sometimes it's because they have their favorite characters or brands and they use them for open-ended play, which is incredibly important. Or on the other side of the spectrum, it is also for socialization. Kids are using all these collectibles to trade and hang out with friends and create their own story lines."

Rhiannon Teeter | CNBC

Hot items from this year's Toy Fair are plush Whiffer Sniffers, super hero and "Star Wars" figures from Jakks Pacific, Legos and plastic Zomlings toys.

Hasbro's latest roll-out of Transformers toys plays into this trend. The company has created a new line of Titan Masters, small robots that convert into heads and can be attached onto the Transformers. There is a variety of colors and styles of Transformers that made them ideal for collection.

5. Movie and TV

Fans of "Star Wars" will have no shortage of new toys and collectibles this year.

The licensed brand will be seen in plush toys, dolls, action figures, pillows, video games, Legos and more. Data tracker NPD Group estimates that Star Wars toys rang up $700 million in sales last year, and the figure is expected to grow in the coming years.

Toys that feature elements and characters from popular blockbusters and television shows are not new to the industry, but they are abundant. "Star Wars," "Jurassic World," Marvel, Batman, Superman, Disney, Pokemon and My Little Pony are among the most popular brands, but they're not the only ones to appear at the Toy Fair.

Marvel "Civil War" toys at Toy Fair
Rhiannon Teeter | CNBC

Toys from "Trolls," "Moana," "Life of Pets," "Zootopia," "Inside Out," and "Angry Birds" were also on display in New York, among numerous others. In the same vein as collectibles, these movie and TV-inspirted toys, gadgets and costumes inspire imaginative, open-ended play and feature characters that are familiar to kids.