This may be remembered as the “crossover” year for kids’ tech toys — the year that tech went on a diet and the toy play got fatter (and richer).
Why? Parents are growing concerned about the amount of time their kids spend in front screens. Heavily laden tech toys like VR glasses or robotics kits are expensive.
There’s also a wariness of spending that much on a toy that a child might not like or will grow obsolete. The toy industry is listening and creating less expensive, but clever, tech-play experiences where the tech starts to fade into the background.
Two of my Toy Fair favorites tech-ified toys for the whole family to enjoy together. Mattel’s Air Pictionary (coming this June, $19.95) takes the traditional Pictionary game and adds a simple light pen that connects to your smartphone. Instead of using paper and pen, you draw by moving your pen in the air, and your opponents guess what you’re drawing.
The pen’s output can be displayed on a mobile device, tablet or cast to a large screen. It’s a little tougher to set up than the paper/pen version, but the play is a riot and totally novel.
Scenes From The Toy Fair 2019 Floor
CarPool Karaoke from Singing Machines, another destined-to-be family fav, is a $49.99 Bluetooth-enabled microphone that outputs to your car’s speakers through your car radio. Choose a playlist from any streaming service or your own music library, and then have a raucous sing-along.
Spin Master also debuted a more price-friendly robot, their Novie, a casual-play little $24.99 robot pal that learns to follow your hand gestures to move, spin and dance.
Nurturing & Caring
Tech is also giving a boost to the popular nurturing/caring toys that have spawned like salmon after the success of Hatchimals. This year, with the addition of gyroscopes, accelerators and other sensors you’re seeing lots of variations on the hatching your animal scene.
In anticipation of the launch of the newest “How to Train Your Dragon” movie, Spin Master has a new Hatchimal type creature with Hatching Toothless. Unlike the gentle Hatchimals, the dragon version hatches with a bit of attitude and aggression. You crack and smack the egg, and Toothless the Dragon is born with wings flapping and heart beating to play some sensor-based games, including a dragon version of Hot Potato.
Spin Master also introduced Owleez, which hatches out of its nest but can’t yet fly ($49.99). You’re the flight trainer and Owleez turns into a sort of helicopter owl, making short flights if you nurture it right.
AR Extends Play
While collectibles and hatchables are fun, Davin Sufer, WowWee’s chief technical officer, reported that he was excited about the way that AR extended the play and helped fill in the backstory behind the WowWee characters in the company’s Untamed collection.
New this year is are mini versions of the characters that come packed in test tubes of slime, sand or clay. Kids can mix and match the animals' heads and bodies to create their own creatures and then use the AR component to continue the play. For ages 5 and older, the items will be available in spring for $4.99
Lego’s Hidden Side, meanwhile, gives kids a little dose of creepy with its new set of eight themed haunted experiences including a schoolhouse and cemetery. AR springs to life to offer kids a rich environment of ghost-buster like adventures to add to the physical playsets.
Tech That Looks Like Tech
Of course, there’s no shortage of tech-looking toys, too. Two personal picks were Professor Maxwell’s 4D Chef, a $39.99 bundle that includes a VR mask where you insert your mobile phone, plus a cookbook and a bunch of kid-sized utensils. Kids learn to cook (with a heavy dose of chemistry and nutrition) added.
LeapFrog’s new RockIt Twist is a very cool handheld game/learning machine, modeled after game controllers, but suitable for the youngest kids.