With the close of New York’s International Toy Fair, toy fair season has ended. Toy companies spend months, even years, preparing to unveil their playful masterpieces in NYC. The toy industry is one that lives and dies by the new ideas it has to generate every few months to stay ahead of the game. It moves fast to stay ahead of trends, and if a company is very lucky, it defines those trends.
The category of technology toys has matured well over the last decade, and has taken a giant step forward over last year’s products. In the early days companies chasing shiny new tech often released toys that had forced play patterns, which resulted in poor play experience coupled with sizable financial losses. But things are changing. Tech toys are a high risk, high reward game - and here are some of the brightest tech toy announcements to come out of Toy Fair in the last week.
Pictionary Air by Mattel
Mattel has a modern twist to the popular Pictionary game. Using a special light-up pen that pairs with the Pictionary Air mobile app, the drawer illustrates their clue in the air. The app captures the drawing in real time, and displays the masterpiece on a screen. Live drawings can be recorded and saved for playback. For larger groups, the image can be projected onto a TV screen through Apple TV or Chromecast. The new game is for kids eight and up, retailing for US$19.99, and will be available fall 2019. The app will be iOS and Android compatible.
Hidden Side by LEGO
LEGO Hidden Side (pictured) is an augmented reality-enhanced play experience. Once a LEGO kit is built, kids explore a haunted alternative reality hidden within their construction. Each kit has AR mysteries and challenges to solve, and the play expands over the many kits. Ready for summer 2019, sets are appropriate for kids eight and up, and range in price from US$19.99 to US $129.99, depending on the LEGO kit purchased. They will work with iOS and Android devices.
Rockit Twist by LeapFrog
LeapFrog’s Rockit Twist is the latest learning game platform with a clever input alternative. The various buttons on this handheld device feel a bit like a fidget box, which is a great input extension and appropriate enhancement from the traditional D-pad found on most gaming systems. Available fall 2019 for children four and up, the US$59.99 device comes with 12 preloaded games, with six additional game packs sold separately.
smART Pixelator by Flycatcher
Flycatcher’s smART Pixelator device allows kids to make some creative, pixel-like artwork, in both 2D and 3D. The base of the product is a screen that displays a grid of colored lights. The user places beads on the screen to match the underlying color, filling the space with their creative work of art. The product includes 50 different images to build, but the beauty of smART Pixelator is that kids can upload their own photos to the device via the iOS or Android app and a Bluetooth connection. Additional beads, sequins, pegs and project packs can be purchased separately. Clocking in at US$59.99, smART Pixelator is appropriate for kids seven and up and will be available fall 2019.
Mech-5 by Elenco
The kids’ robotics space is a crowded one, and there are few screenless coding options. Even fewer solutions come in under US$40. The Mech-5 coding approach is unique. Users program the robot by snapping coding pegs into a moveable “coding wheel” at the center. Specific combinations instruct the robot to move forward, backward, turn, spin or pause. No computer or app required. At US$39.99, the bot is good kids ages five to 12, and will be available summer 2019.
Plugo by Shifu
Here’s an interesting twist on using a tablet’s onboard camera for learning games: Plugo comes with a base game board to hold your iOS or Android tablet on one end, and a variety of kit components to arrange on the other, all of which triggers real-time responses from your tablet’s screen. Challenges are displayed on your tablet’s screen, and the user needs to place specific game pieces correctly to advance the activity. For kids ages five to 11, there are five different kits to purchase (each focuses on a different set of learning skills). Base game and additional kits are US$45.00 each, and will be available spring 2019.
Light Racer Kit by Tech Will Save Us
Light Racer (US$24.99) is a simple and clever, electronic component that once assembled can attach to your bike’s wheel. Wireless coil components and capacitors trigger LED lights to shine when bike wheels are spinning. Available now, and for kids eight and up, assembly instructions are provided via an iOS and Android app.
Juno My Baby Elephant by Spin Master
Spin Master’s experience creating animatronic dolls is a specialty in the toy industry, and applied to a baby elephant results in a super cute experience. Touch sensors on Juno bring out charming expressions, sounds and it has an animated trunk. The adorable US$99.999 elephant is good for children four and up and will be available fall 2019.
Scott Traylor is a consultant to many child-focused businesses and products (none of which are referenced in this article). He’s the founder of 360KID, where his company’s work has received many awards, including multiple Emmy nominations and one Emmy win. He’s also a former computer science instructor at Harvard, and currently lives in Silicon Valley, searching for the next big opportunity in the children’s industry.