Toy Fair Resembles CES for Kids
NEW YORK -- If you suspect that kids today are
growing up too fast, next week's American International
Toy Fair at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center may be
all the proof you need.
In keeping with the general trend toward "age
compression" or KGOY (industry shorthand for "kids
getting older younger"), toy manufacturers will be
introducing a host of adult technologies aimed at small
children -- including kid-friendly laptops, graphics
tablets, digital cameras and a host of other high-tech
Consumer electronics for kids is the fastest growing
trend in the $22 billion toy industry. With children
becoming ever more tech savvy at ever-younger ages,
toymakers are scrambling to capitalize on the rapidly
growing market for youth electronics.
"We've been seeing kids are getting comfortable at a
scary age," says Richard Vincent, CEO and creative
director of Kutoka Interactive, which will be
introducing a line of colorful optical mice designed
just for tots.
Vincent initially thought toddlers wouldn't have the
motor skills to manipulate adult peripherals, but that
hasn't been a problem.
"We've seen 2-year-olds doing very well, and it's
unnerving," he says.
Along with its optical mice, Kutoka will also have a
line of digital cameras and graphics tablets produced by
French toy giant Smoby and aimed specifically at
children. Each device will come bundled with its own
software, custom-tailored to young users.
The $55 Technokids Graphic Tablet, for example, features
Click & Create With Mia -- a kind of Photoshop for tots
that teaches kids to draw, paint and animate shapes on
screen, and allows them to create posters, invitations
and birthday cards.
"You have a lot of the concepts behind Photoshop, but
it's also a project program," says Vincent.
Similarly, the software that comes with Smoby's digital
cameras allows children to morph, label and organize
their images, then e-mail them to their friends.
Mice and cameras are just the beginning.
Concept Enterprises will be introducing a SmartKids
laptop for children aged 3 to 6 that features a piano
keyboard and bilingual programs in Spanish and English.
Jazwares will be showing off its Marvel Ani-Movie
Studio, which allows kids to create digital stop-motion
films starring Marvel Comics characters.
And there will be the inevitable iPod accessories,
including Pressman Toy's iGamez, which allows kids to
play a digital version of Name That Tune.
Age compression is one factor driving this phenomenon;
the other is the declining cost of electronic
"Now that the cost of this technology has fallen, we can
put an electronic tablet in front of a preschooler,"
says Kevin Curran, managing director of Fisher-Price.
"Our children have been exposed to more technology, but
if it wasn't affordable, it wouldn't make its way into
Fisher-Price will be unveiling its own graphics tablet
and software package, the $50 Digital Arts and Crafts
Inexpensive devices that can serve double duty as
children's toys and adult tools are especially appealing
to parents. Smoby's graphics tablet, for example, works
just fine with Photoshop.
"So mom or dad's going to say, 'Cool, I'm going to buy
the graphics tablet because I can use it, too,'" Vincent
says. And if the software is rich enough, the toys have
the potential to become "lapware" that kids and parents
will play with together.
Fisher-Price is also introducing the Smart Cycle, a
small stationary bike that allows kids to peddle their
way through a virtual environment on a standard
television set. Kids can race other on-screen vehicles,
and play a variety of educational games: picking up
letters or numbers, or spelling various words. The
faster they pedal, the faster the game.
The exercise may help assuage the greatest fear of any
parent in an increasingly tech-driven toy environment:
that too much technology will lead to the creation of
tiny couch potatoes.
"If you were sitting behind the one-way mirror of a
focus group, you can imagine that's exactly what we
heard," Curran says with a laugh.
Of course, not everything at the fair will serve a
Pyramat will be demonstrating the butt-blasting power of
its PM440-W wireless gaming chair, the latest in a line
of surround-sound Barcaloungers designed to apply a
heavy dose of deep bass to your backside every time you
pop a cop in Grand Theft Auto.
There will be plenty of low-tech offerings, as well.
Just across from the sprawling Maisto International
display of die-cast cars and trucks, tiny Interactive
Cultural Media will be hawking African Dance for
Children, a multimedia kit with technical props limited
to a DVD, a handmade grass skirt and some water-soluble
Still, there seems little doubt where the toy industry
is headed in the long run.
"You give them a choice between playing with an
electronic thing on a computer and a pile of Lego
bricks, and a lot of Ph.Ds will tell you it's better for
them to play with the Lego bricks," says Kutoka's
Vincent. "But they'll take the computer."
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