Archive for February, 2007

New York Toy Fair – Charming Tech Toy Surprises

Monday, February 26th, 2007

Now having the opportunity to digest all that I’ve seen at Toy Fair, it was truly a great year for the show. So much innovation. Lots of fantastic ideas. This industry has to constantly recreate itself, looking for that fresh new plaything that will steal the hearts and minds of kids and parents. This blog entry will be my last of four posts regarding what I saw at the show. As promised, here are a handful of technology toy products with learning in mind that grabbed my attention. While these toys may not make front page news, they all have a magical quality about them.

Aerobotic Butterfly by Super Creation
Remote controlled butterfly photoIf I could take just one toy home that I saw at Toy Fair, it would be this one. (Remember, I spent three days at the show and saw LOTS of new products). In a tiny little booth, way in the back of the Javits Center, far off the beaten path, I discovered this gem. It’s a remote controlled butterfly that actually flies. While this product is not positioned as a learning product, I see all kinds of home and classroom discussions opportunities about the history of flight, butterflies, metamorphosis, technology and more. At the time of this blog post, the company’s website has not been built, but for those interested in learning more you can email inquiries to: info (at) supercreation (dot) com (dot) hk. Click here to see a video of the product in action.

Braincandy DVDs by Braincandy
Braincandy characters and DVD photoBraincandy is a young company specializing in making DVD and audio CD products for very young children. Currently they have two DVD products available that help children learn about themselves through their flagship title that focuses on the five senses; a second is all about sight. Sample video clips seen from Braincandy’s website. With very high production values, and with fantastic and charming puppet creations, this company’s work is very original, striking, and appealing for both young children and their caregivers. More DVD and CD titles are expected to ship throughout 2007.

Solar powered robots by OWI
Solar powered frog photo OWI is a technology toy company that specializes in offering small robotic science kits. This year they unveiled a number of new solar powered critters. To assemble, simply snap together all of the electronic parts. No soldering is required. Then you can watch them move when a light source is made available to power their motors. While you cannot currently purchase these items through the OWI website, I’ve provided links here to another distributor where you can purchase the four robots demonstrated at the show; a frog, grasshopper, crab, and inch worm.

Giggles – Computer Funtime for Baby by Leveractive
Giggles animals photoLeveractive has succeeded in creating two very engaging and very playful CD-ROM titles specifically for babies (and their parents). Two different titles, one called Shapes, the other My Animal Friends, allow babies to hit any key on a computer keyboard to bring up many fun animations, music and sound effects. The developers have made sure that there’s no way a baby can accidentally hit key combinations or the Escape key to cause havoc at the desktop level. Each title contains 14 charming activities. The content is very age appropriate and also offers English and Spanish set-up options right on the same CD.

In my next post I’ll explore recently findings released by NPD regarding kids, leisure time activity, and screened content.

New York Toy Fair – Tech Toys that Get You Moving

Monday, February 19th, 2007

As a nation we are gaining a greater awareness to the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy eating choices. The CDC reports that approximately 30% of kids ages 6 – 11 are overweight. Because my company is involved with the development of learning products for kids I’m noticing more businesses and schools paying closer attention to what they can do to be a cause for better eating choices and physical activity in a child’s daily life. I’m seeing makers of children’s television programs find ways to reach out to kids about the benefits of exercise. (Take a look at the show Lazy Town on Nick Jr. or have you noticed how Cookie Monster has changed his eating habits to be more balanced?). Great success is also occurring in the video game sector to get people off the couch and moving, with platforms like Nintendo’s Wii, dance pad products like Dance Dance Revolution and other products like Sony’s EyeToy and Hasbro’s iOn.

Soon you will see more toy companies offering technology products to get kids moving and active. Here are a few noteworthy items I saw at Toy Fair:

Smart Cycle by Fisher-Price
Smart Cycle photoThere was much buzz at Toy Fair with the announcement of this toy and rightly so. The Smart Cycle is a TV-based plug-and-play, cartridge-based platform that looks a like a cross between an exercycle for preschoolers and a Big Wheels, but it’s also a video game. Once the Smart Cycle is hooked up to your television, children begin peddling and can steer the handlebars to select objects displayed on the screen. Biking quests can include finding letters of the alphabet, shapes, and exploration of other early learning concepts. This product is destined to be a multi-award winner and influencer on the next generation of motion-based products. Children, ages 3 – 6, will love this product. Sadly adults will be challenged to fit into this bicycle seat!

Play TV MLB Baseball and Play TV Football 2 by Radica
Play TV Football 2 photoHere are two new plug-and-play products to come out of Radica, a cool tech toy company now owned by Mattel. The first, Play TV MLB Baseball comes with a bat you can swing and a ball to throw. Each item has motion sensitive electronics inside which feeds information back to your TV set. Play TV Football 2 (not to be confused with last year’s release, Play TV Football) has the same tech in a football. Your teammate runs on a small pressure sensitive mat to control characters on screen to catch the pass. Both products appear to be targeting a tween audience.

Hyper Dash by Wild Planet Entertainment
Hyper Dash photoHyper Dash is a technology toy that could be used indoors or out and does not require a television or computer to use. To start the game, 5 colored electronic targets are placed around the house or yard. Then, holding a talking electronic “tagger”, spoken instructions are given to the child, like find the blue target, then the red, etc. There are different game settings that focus on math skills, team work, and timed-based searches. As a child successfully finds the requested target, the music, pace, and complexity of each new request increases. This toy is recommended for children ages 5 – 8.

Motion-based Music and Games by TikTokTech
Screen capture of a motion-based video gameThe company TikTokTech was showing two different stand alone TV plug-and-play devices. A small camera unit is placed on top of your television to play either music games or a combination of music and art games, depending on which device you purchase. While motion-based products have really only been around for a short while, these are the only titles available that provide a freeform artistic or musical experience for kids. For those that follow motion-based games, I strongly recommend checking out the user testing videos posted at the IF Media Lab website. IF Media Lab appears to be the technology and research arm for TikTokTech. These two titles are recommended for kids ages 3 – 8.

In my next post, I’ll share with you a handful of surprises that caught my eye at Toy Fair. These finds may not make big headlines, but they have enough magic in ’em to make them stand out in a crowd.

New York Toy Fair – Plug-and-Play Stations

Saturday, February 17th, 2007

As I mentioned in my previous post, there were fewer plug-n-play toys at Toy Fair this year than last. But of the ones that made an appearance, there seemed to be a more thoughtful approach as to what would make good use of plug-and-play technology. Here are a handful of new technology toys that have learning in mind and a couple of non-learning specific toys that are worth taking a look at:

ClickStart – My First Computer by LeapFrog
ClickStart photoThe ClickStart plug-and-play toy provides young children the experience computing in a fun and safe way, without tieing-up mom or dad’s home computer. This product includes a child-friendly keyboard and mouse, which can be set up to accommodate left or right handed users. The on-screen learning is guided by a friendly puppy named Scout. Children collect food treats for Scout as they complete games using numbers, letters, shapes and colors. This toy is a cartridge-based platform which means you can expect to see a number of different titles available to use with the base unit later this year. ClickStart is intended for children ages 3 – 6.

Easy Link Internet Launchpad by Fisher-Price
Easy Link photoThe Easy Link Internet Launchpad acts like a mom-approved dashboard to preschool-safe content on the web. Say a child would like to visit their favorite Sesame Street online game. All a child needs to do is pick up one of the many miniature figurines, in this case Elmo ( or Barney, Clifford, the Wiggles, Thomas the Train, Bob the Builder, and others) and place the figurine in its designated spot… a little like placing the round peg in the correct hole. Once inserted, the device automatically will link its user to the games section of sesamestreet.com. No typing is necessary and all content locations are child-safe with no external links to undesirable content. This product works best with children ages 3 – 6.

Digital Arts & Crafts Studio by Fisher-PriceDigital Arts & Crafts Studio photo
This digital art station plugs right into the USB port of your computer. The device has a drawing tablet and a stylus for kids to draw. Drawings made on the tablet will appear on the computer monitor. A number of different creative templates are available to get kids started, like custom-designed birthday cards, party materials, and other holiday and artistic treats as well. Completed artwork can be printed out on your own color printer. Parents will be happy to know the number of printed items coming from this toy can be limited so expensive color printer ink can be used sparingly if desired.

Whiz Kid Learning System by VTechWhiz Kid Learning System photo
This learning platform is unique in that it can be used with or without a computer, though it is a USB plug-and-play device. It has the ability to go where the child goes, untethered to some video monitor if desired. Up to 40 different activity pages can slide into this device for use with a stylus to make interactive selections on the tablet. Each page includes three different interactive learning activities. This product is also considered a platform, which means additional titles can be purchased to extend the learning and play experience through the base unit. (Additional titles for this product are referred to as “Wizware.”) Titles provide reading-based content as well as math, phonics, logic and creativity learning activities. Children ages 3 – 6 are intended audience for thsi product.

EyeClops by Jakks PacificEyeClops photo
This toy is not being released as a learning product, but I think it has huge learning potential. EyeClops plugs right into your TV and acts like a 200X microscope. Wherever your child points the camera lens the result is in a giant magnified visual on your TV screen. What does the surface of your skin look like close-up? What about that bug? What exactly is in that rug of yours? Exploration and discovery is the name of the game with this toy. The target audience is described as 8 – 12, but I think this toy has the ability to expand into other ages as well.

NetJet by Hasbro
NetJet photo NetJet is a clever USB connected handheld device created by Tiger Electronics, a division of Hasbro. NetJet consists of a handheld game controller and a game key. Each game key inserted into the controller allows its user to access different casual game content online. Popular games using familiar characters and brands are available through this device, but not to those without the controller and keys. The NetJet environment is also free of advertising. No banner of pop-up ads here. Kids are also kicked offline once the NetJet device is removed from the USB port. By this coming fall season, 40 different casual game titles will be available for purchase. This product will appeal to casual gamers, both young and old, but Tiger is best know for their success with the tween market. This is not a learning product, but NetJet is an excellent use of plug-and-play technology.

Digi Makeover by Radica
Digi Makeover photo This TV plug-and-play device first appeared at last year’s Toy Fair. It has a built in camera which allows it’s user to take a picture of oneself, then, through the controls on the tablet, modify hairstyles, add jewelry, and apply makeup. (Note: This product has brought about much discussion in our office about female stereo-typing and the kinds of messages it sends out to young girls. In our own testing of the product, we find that kids enjoyed the product greatly when we referred to it as a “stuffed animal makeover” toy. Kids couldn’t stop laughing when they gave a giant stuffed Pikachu and other fuzzy friends a new hairdo and pearls!) What’s new here is Radica has hinted it will be releasing an newer version of the device later this year but no formal announcement has been made.

In my next blog article, I’ll take a look at more technology toys that are intended to get kids moving and active!

New York Toy Fair – Observations with Tech Toys

Wednesday, February 14th, 2007

It’s that time of year again in New York City, which means there’s either a huge snow storm brewing or the newest crop of toys can be seen at Toy Fair. After being at the American International Toy Fair for the last three days checking out the latest technology toys, I’ve seen a few noteworthy trends to watch:

  • First, there are indeed more technology toys at this year’s show than last year, including technology products coming from traditional toy companies that have not yet played in the technology space
  • Plug-and-play devices, which were in great abundance last year, are less noteworthy this year
  • Of those few remaining plug-and-play products, the new trend is to make plug-and-play toys that connect to the USB port of your computer instead of a television set
  • And finally, guitars will be big business by holiday of 2007

When I go to toy fair I look for two things: technology and learning. Toys that use technology to deliver learning opportunities is what gets me excited about the show. When you think about technology toys and learning, the usual suspects come to mind: Fisher-Price, LeapFrog, and VTech. What was unusual about this year’s toy fair is that LeapFrog was nowhere to be found. They did not exhibit at the show. None-the-less, new products were announced by all. Over the next few days I will describe some of the highlights within tech toys, as well as a few other surprises in the coming days, but today… let’s start with just the guitars:

I Can Play Guitar by Fisher-Price
I Can Play Guitar photoFollowing on the success of I Can Play Piano, the TOTY (Toy of the Year) nominated product that helps kids learn to play the piano, Fisher-Price has released this new product to help kids learn to play guitar. I Can Play Piano has a wonderful method for teaching how to site read music and translate that knowledge to keyboard playing. I didn’t have the opportunity to play with the new I Can Play Guitar product first hand, but look forward to seeing it’s instructive solution. This was one of the few TV plug-and-play products at the show and the only new guitar product that uses a screen. It’s intended for kids ages 5 and up.

Power Tour Electric Guitar by Hasbro
Power Tour Electric Guitar photoThis technology toy is not intentionally positioned as a learning product, but it’s bound to influence kids to want to play guitar. This electronic toy teaches kids how to play 12 different songs but also allows an MP3 player to be hooked up to the guitar as well to play along with your favorite tunes. Lights on the fretboard appear to let the user know where to place their fingers. The device also has audio in and out ports. Hasbro worked with the guitar maker Gibson to make this product. Hasbro believes this toy will have a strong appeal to tweens.

Learn & Groove Animal Sounds Guitar by LeapFrog
Learn & Groove Animal Sounds Guitar photoThis digital guitar, complete with whammy bar and buttons on it’s fret. It not only allows for musical exploration but also introduces numbers, letters, and animals in both English or Spanish. It’s suggested use is for infants and toddlers ages 12 to 36 months.

Electric Rockerz Guitar by Zizzle
Electric Rockerz Guitar photoThis guitar is not meant to assist with learning but joins the digital guitar bandwagon. This product is the smallest and least expensive of the bunch and promotes the sequel to the Disney Channel TV movie High School Musical. It too targets tweens and is part of a collection of electronic toy instruments that will appear on store shelves later this summer.

Jam With Me Electric Guitar by KidDesign Little information is available about this digital toy but what we do know is that it has a slot to plug in an iPod Nano.

While marketers imply these toys are inexpensive ways to introduce guitar playing to kids without the price tag of a real guitar or lessons it’s more likely they’re now appearing as a result of the smash success with the video game Guitar Hero and Guitar Hero 2. The only learning that occurs in these PS2 titles is hand-eye coordination and timing, but after 30 minutes of play with these titles, or maybe with these new guitar toys, you too will want to brush the dust off of your Mel Bay guitar instruction books!

Next up, I’ll take a look at more non-musical plug-and-play products debuted at Toy Fair.