You might wonder what inspired me to go to the New York City Toy Fair at the Javits Center and what inspired this blog. First, note that this is the 111th annual Toy Fair, hosted by the Toy Industry Association. Did you know that educational apps incorporating smart technology are now infiltrating the toy market? Probably not, unless you are an app developer and are on the cusp of all things digital. Toy makers are joining forces with app developers and trying to add a manipulative, hands-on experience to the screen time that kids are consuming. Bright idea, if you can’t beat them you might as well join them!
With my trusty Press Pass in hand, I was given eight or nine booths to visit, each was believed to have had toys paired with apps. If you have never been to the Javits Center in NYC it is hard to imagine just how big this place is, the word “enormous” does not do it justice. I set off to explore the vast expanse of what is known as the Marketplace for the World and first came across a company called Incredebooks, with apps utilizing augmented reality. As we all know augmented reality is way cool and can bring education into a whole new level of virtual reality that aims to duplicate the world’s environment. The books were good, but this technology brought the pages to life. Plant the seeds and watch Jack’s beanstalk explode before your eyes! The apps themselves need some polishing and could benefit from teacher input. Tosy – DancingRobot (from Viet Nam) was the next booth, their product works in conjunctiomn with a cell phone, making the robot(s) flash lights, dance 56 disco moves, change 8 different digital facial expressions and speech. All as it moves to the music, a bit limited – but a very sleek look. Buy two or more robots and they interact with one another. Cloud b Twilight Melodies showcases a really sleek turtle with several companions that work as a nightlight by illuminating a dreamy pattern onto the ceiling and playing your choice of music. This again functions via an app and gives one the capabilities of selecting and mixing music, length of playing time as well as when to turn on and turn off. These sound and light products have been designed to create a soothing and calming effect and promote consistent sleep routines for babies and children. Really adorable and cuddly companions for the toddler set.
Back in the 3000 technology section a presentation of a new plush, called Ubooly was going on. A stuffed toy that serves as an iPad or mobile phone case (two different sizes). The target age of 4-10 yrs seemed a bit of a stretch for a ten year old, but it is awfully cute. Ubooly comes in a variety of colors and maybe even teenagers would fall for this cuddly creature. The apps enable reading along with books, which come with a stamp that uploads the book onto the ipad. This concept was impressive because the apps sent children off on exploratory missions and has lots of customizable options. Their website states that you simply download the app, customize for your child, insert your device into the toy, and your kid has a new friend!
Whew! A lot to take in for an educator; wheels are spinning in all directions for the potential learning these products hold. Later in the day came Digi Puppets – Fingerpuppets that can operate any touch screen like a stylus, very clever concept and the child appeal factor seemed high. Each puppet comes with a different app and, as the representative stated, once it is time to put the screen away the child still has the finger puppet to play with. Simple, yet brilliant, TheO SmartBall, by Physical Apps, is a foam ball that safely contains an iphone or ipod to and enables kids to drop and throw the ball. This product appeared to have huge potential for the special needs population as well as toddlers. Jim, the demonstrator, said he would send one to Teachers With Apps for a review. Their video clips showing families and teenagers playing hot potato and other engaging games demonstrated the potential for audiences of all ages. They even have a bowling component that can be synced with your TV. The ball comes with 4 free apps that encourage physical games as well as educational content. This same company also makes The O Smart Disk – group puzzle maze.
With a bit of finagling at Mattel, I got past their security and saw the Barbie Digital Makeover Mirror; this vanity look-alike transforms an iPad into a digital mirror. Kids can select from a vast array of eye shadow, lipstick, and all kinds of glitter. Facial tracking technology keeps digital makeup in place as the child moves. Can’t say this new Barbie concept is educational, but OMG, if my daughter was seven again. Next up and far from a teaching tool for your average teacher, but way cool was Power Up – Paper, a paper airplane with a motorized propeller and rudder. An app controls the motor and steering; it can fly 60 meters and has a 10 minute battery life. The would be a wonderful addition to a Stem Program.
The stand out at the show for me was definitely Tiggly Toys – a set of interactive iPad shaped toys for toddlers that work with a tablet. So far, they have four different apps with a target age of 18 months to 4 yrs. When I asked about the generally accepted, No iPads for the under two crowd, they were brave enough to say, we know that younger children are using iPads. What a joy to put a toy back into the hands of a child…
The apperance of the live Grumpy Kitty by Gund was quite a finale and wreaked havoc for all of five minutes. Since I don’t watch TV, it had never been on my radar, nevertheless anyone in that vicinity was immediately out to get a pic of the real thing!