Furby, aliens and jigsaws: Top toys get techy for Christmas

 
Furby held by a child Nineties Christmas sensation Furby has had a hi-tech makeover - and he's not the only one

Ever since some bright spark decided that tethering a cup to a ball with a bit of string would be a fun idea, toymakers have always sought to use the latest technology to ignite children's imaginations.

As Christmas fast approaches, the lists of little girls and boys the world over are expected to be dominated by techy toys - including the return of some familiar favourites.

Technology of Business

It was 1998 when the world first met Furby.

Cute, talkative little creatures, the Furby range featured a revolutionary feature: infrared eyes which meant the toys could communicate with each other.

It could also "listen" to conversations, and would, with a little pat-on-the-head encouragement, be taught to say a selection of words.

At the time, Furby was considered so advanced, that the US government banned the toys from its National Security Agency offices - lest it repeat top secret information to unofficial ears.

Thankfully, there were no confirmed reports of intelligence leaks, and years later, the Furby is making a comeback.

This time, its infrared eyes have been replaced with two small LCD screens, its body has more motors and sensors than before and - here's the clever bit - the Furby of 2012 comes with its own smartphone and tablet app, allowing for a much more interactive experience.

The app will even translate Furby's warblings into English.

"We've reinvented Furby with advanced technology that brings a whole new way to play to kids," the company gushed.

"The personality of each Furby appears to evolve by the way children play with it, and every unpredictable action and reaction helps make each Furby seem unique."

'Wow factor'

But Furby certainly isn't the only toy to be making use of mobile apps to enhance the play experience, says John Baulch, publisher of Toy World magazine.

"The best of these app toys, they really do significantly enhance the play value of what you get out of it," he says.

"It adds a real wow factor to toys. It's what kids really want these days."

"Toys have always harnessed new technology - because kids are getting more technologically savvy and literate."

Among the most exciting, he says, is Wowwee - a Hong Kong-based firm specialising in robotic toys and other hi-tech playthings.

Ravensburger augmented reality jigsaw Ravensburger's jigsaws now have an added final touch

Top of their success list is App Gear, a range of games which use augmented reality to create stunning interactive levels out of real places. Using either a smartphone or tablet, players end up shooting aliens around their living room, or fighting off a zombie apocalypse - all apparently standard activities for any modern day playtime.

"The entire App Gear range is based on toys that have got this kind of app angle to them," explains Mr Baulch.

"Creating apps and products to work together perfectly."

Even toys you may consider to be traditional are getting the augmented reality treatment.

German company Ravensburger has been making both adult and children's games since 1884, specialising in intricately made jigsaw puzzles.

The company's more recent innovative successes include 3D puzzles, but when it came to competing with the popularity of virtual games, they encountered a problem, as company marketing manager Benn Bramwell explains.

"The jigsaw puzzle is very difficult to recreate on a computer."

"You can obviously try it with other puzzles - but there's something about it that doesn't come across as well as doing it in person."

The company's digital division took on the task of reinventing a game that had remained largely untouched since it was first conceived.

In the company's new augmented reality range, a completed puzzle comes to life. Placing the last piece on the Underwater Realm puzzle, for instance, means the puzzle can be brought to life through another use of augmented reality.

Toddler tablet fans

With app-powered toys becoming something of a must-have gift this Christmas, parents protective of their expensive, sticky fruit juice-free tablets may have cause for concern.

Risks of soiling aside, parents also harbour worries over the safety of leaving children to enjoy playtime with a fully internet-enabled device.

Which is where the booming children's tablet market comes in.

Wowwee app game Wowwee's App Gear products make virtual alien battlegrounds of living rooms

"We designed it so I could regain my tablet back," jokes Tracey Devine, marketing director for InspirationWorks, makers of Kurio, a children's tablet.

"Whether you agree with it or not, we know that two-year-olds are playing with tablets. What we've tried to develop is something specifically for them that's safe."

It's becoming a crowded market. Children's tablets - which like normal tablets have apps and web browsing - are springing up in toy shops the world over. Efforts from kid tech veterans VTech and Leapfrog have all earned strong reviews from technology pundits.

The scene is becoming so competitive, children's tablets even have their own patent battle dispute - with manufacturer Fuhu is suing retailer Toys R Us for allegedly copying its ideas.

Scuffles aside, those in the toy trade believe tablets are going to be huge - not only this Christmas, but for many more to come.

Ice Cream Sandwich

Beneath the usually rubber-padded surface, children's tablets are remarkably similar to today's normal tablets.

The Kurio, for instance, runs the Ice Cream Sandwich version of Google's Android operating system - that's the same as the top-end models from the likes of Samsung.

But of course, there are alterations. Parents can set the tablet to disable the internet, or a programme in a white list of accepted sites, or a black list of unacceptable ones.

Kurio The Kurio runs on Android, but with a few child-friendly enhancements

There are suggest presets for certain ages. For under 12s, it removes social networks (with the exception of child-friendly sites like Moshi Monsters and Club Penguin).

To prevent sneaky, under the covers sessions on Angry Birds - the tablet can be set to switch off automatically after a child's bedtime.

In the new year, the Kurio tablet - like its competitors - will be expanded with a whole range of add-on accessories and dedicated apps.

It's all adds up to being an exciting time for both children and toymakers, says Toy World's Mr Baulch.

"Tablets should do astonishingly well this Christmas," he says.

"Where they get the sweet spot right, they produce something that takes toys to the next level."

 

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  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 75.

    The luddite parents need to know the facts. As a kid I played outside on tree's and also played the "floor is lava" game.
    Trust me it's not because I was creative its because I was bored stiff. The moment I was bought a computer I did nothing but create with it, but hey lets throw progress away because some parents believe they know best.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 74.

    Fortunately, there are more and more parents, grandparents and other adults who are searching for toys, games and other activities which encourage creativity and artistic skills and the development of all the senses. These "thinking" adults are also trying to encourage the creative interaction with their children - and it's all such fun for everyone! Children & adults love it!!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 73.

    @61.Philip C

    That is because cats are awesome Philip and are content with being given some tasty treats (can of tuna) a stroke and a bit of string to play with, or in the case of my cat the shadows on the wall made by wiggling your fingers about. Cheap and cheerful and much better than having kids.

  • rate this
    -6

    Comment number 72.

    Modern toys in moderation.

    you don't want a child who thinks a good time is a half-hour of monopoly, or he'll be bullied mercilessly at school.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 71.

    Its not what toys kids play with, its whether or not parents spend enough time with their children. Being thrown outside to play in the fields in the pre-techy age might give exercise & fresh air can be just as damaging as using a 3DS as a pseudo babysitter.
    I agree with disco_dad26, buy a Raspberry Pi and teach kids how to create, rather than how to respond to artificial stimuli.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 70.

    @64 ...I think the age 3+ guide on toys generally means if they are younger they could choke on the pieces....

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 69.

    I'm glad I'm old and no longer subjected to the needs & must haves of the young, anyay I don't think I could afford it now.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 68.

    @58 - who are these experts in the use of electronics by children?

    I can't help but think you're making this up more than a little...

    As I recall from when my children where small, all the 'expert' opinions about childcare seemed to reverse every 5 years or so - which has to limit your respect for their opinions, surely?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 67.

    Technology is getting more and more personal. Spending "too much time" with it just means you'll be more prepared for the future where it's increasingly central to our lives than the luddites who whinged about it and will no doubt complain about how they can't get a job because they didn't bother to learn the tools of the future that will become essential for employment when they had the chance.

  • rate this
    +10

    Comment number 66.

    Talk about nostalgia glasses. Whilst I agree in principle with what people are saying about board games and stuff like action men providing endless entertainment for those with an imagination I bet the way you're all reacting to this generation's toys is exactly how your parents and grandparents reacted to their children's stuff. It's a shame the stuff I played with is dying out but time moves on.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 65.

    @59 DJ205

    Couldn't agree with you more. My Action Man is saluting you!

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 64.

    @53 he doesn't play on his own! He will be 3 before xmas! You know the jigsaw puzzles he plays are 3+, we played them with him too & you know what? He can do them on his own now! But I suppose they’re fine because they are made of wood? Balance is the key!

    @62 That's my point! Thank you!

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 63.

    Happy consumer gifting period everyone and have a fun yet pointless new calender year celebration of overindulging in alcohol.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 62.

    @ 43. angie_HR

    I agree. I cannot see what's wrong with a balance. It's no different to the food you eat - too much of one thing is not good for you, but mixing different types is. If kids spend all day inside on the computer or in front of the TV, then it won't be good for them but if it is mixed with time outdoors/away from the home, playing with other kids and family it's surely well-balanced?

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 61.

    All this talk about buying expensive hi-tech toys for kids. I'm glad I've only got a cat!!

  • Comment number 60.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this
    +17

    Comment number 59.

    Not so long ago, the most high-tech toy I got for Christmas was an Action Man who shot plastic rockets out of a plastic Land Rover. I'll bet I had hours more fun with my imagination and those sorts of toys than these "toys" will ever get played with. Give a kid an inanimate object and they will create a whole world around it. Give them something like a tablet and they'll lose all that imagination.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 58.

    @53

    Except experts recommend that under 3s should not be encouraged to use tablets and the like?...but then what do they know, they're only experts.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 57.

    @52 I really don’t think it is the end of childhood imagination; again I can only go on my son, but he loves playing with his dinosaurs (learned the names of an app btw) but watching him engage with his small world toys, making up voices and generally playing how I would have with a doll, just resolves my view that technology has a place. I restate it is about balance.

  • rate this
    +20

    Comment number 56.

    Children think they want this techno-crap and parents like to pander. But here's the thing. Techno toys are like junk food and TV. Its an cheap thrill, but all these cheap thrills will make a child unimaginative and slow. Give your child a better present this year: more parent-child activities, more adventure, more books and a healthy lifestyle.

 

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