Toy Fair 2016 was an adult’s trip back to childhood, which is pretty normal – showroom after showroom of toys filled with adults letting their inner child have fun playing. If there’s one word that sets this year’s Toy Fair apart from the past, it’s “technology.”
Tech in toys may seem like old hat. If you’re trying to find older, non-tech toys for your kids, you might have a hard time in the mainstream toy stores; seems like simple wooden blocks and Lincoln Logs are being relegated to specialty retailers and online stores only. This might seem odd to those who grew up with the biggest tech item being a rotary dial telephone or a black-and-white television, but for parents born after 1985, microwaves and CDs are old tech. Children of the 21st Century never had a home without at least two televisions, cell phones, computers and DVDs, so it shouldn’t be surprising that tech is becoming commonplace in toys for their children.
If Toy Fair 2016 proved anything, it’s that tech doesn’t necessarily mean sitting for hours glued to a video game or computer; in fact, imagination plays a huge part in some of the new entries this year. And some of this year’s toys had no tech at all. The most buzz was generated by:
- Edwin the Duck (PI Labs) Sesame Street’s Ernie definitely would love to have this rubber duckie in his bath. Edwin is an interactive, waterproof toy that not only can join your favorite child in the bath, but sings and plays games, interacting with your child, no matter what time of day. One of the coolest parts is that Edwin can sing, read stories and play games either by himself or with his animated counterpart on a tablet or computer. From waking up to a morning song to bath time to bedtime stories, songs and a night light, Edwin is right there with a song on his beak and fun in his heart. Ages six months and up.
- Jimu Robot (Ubtech) Remember when you were a kid, building houses, monsters and heroes with interconnecting building blocks that came in kits of your favorite movie? Ubtech takes that one step further, adding robotics to the mix. Their Jimu Robot series lets your child use their imagination to build their own creatures, vehicles and monsters. The basic robotic kit comes fully loaded with over 370 parts, including seven different motors a controller box and a rechargable lithium battery. Just add imagination. Their Inventory level is an even bigger kit, with more than 600 parts to build a universe of robots, ready to take over your kitchen table or playroom. There’s even an app (of course) to help with ideas your child can build on. What a fantastic way to spend some time with your child building something more than just a robot. Not recommended for homes with children less than three years old (small parts).
- Budsies (Budsies) While not technically a tech toy, Budsies is a fantastic idea coming to life in the form of plush toys. Send the company a photograph of your child or pet, your family or a drawing your child made and Budsies will turn that image into a huggable toy, suitable for any age, ranging in size from 16-inches to 30-inches. The company even partners with several child-centric non-profits, including the Mayo Clinic, Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital and Youth Haven to gift these special toys to children in need. Prices depend on whether they’re making a plush from a photo or a drawing, but they’re less than $100; definitely a good price for something that’s handmade of hypoallergenic materials.
- Code-a-Pillar (Fisher-Price) Returning to the world of tech, Fisher-Price hits the ground running – or crawling – with their Think & Learn Code-a-Pillar, which teaches preschoolers how to code (STEM) while they play. The Code-a-Pillar comes in pieces, each capable of doing something different. As each piece is attached, the toy moves, glows and makes noise that changes as the pieces are rearranged. There’s also an app that includes ways to challenge a child to increase their coding knowledge the more they play with the toy. Not recommended for homes with children under three years old (small parts).
- Thingmaker (Mattel) Years ago, there was a toy that would allow you to make worms and other shapes out of slimy plastic. Mattel ups that market by introducing their new Thingmaker, a 3-D printer anyone can use. Mattel bills it as having your own toy factory at home through their design app that connects to the printer. You might wonder how they could make a 3-D printer that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, but when you compare it to a year’s worth of toys you buy, it’s actually cost effective at $300 for the unit. The Design app works on smartphones or tablets, although tablets result in the best designs, and it’ll work with both iOS and Android systems. The best part? You don’t even need the 3-D printer to use the Design app! Simply make your design and download it to a store in your area that has a 3-D printer available for public use. The Thingmaker won’t be available until Fall 2016, but early reviews are enthusiastic about the limitless uses. No word yet on the cost of materials or the amount of time it’ll take to print something made through the Design app, but more info will be coming as September approaches. It’s recommended the Thingmaker be used only with adult supervision, despite the heated printer head being hidden and untouchable while printing.
Is your head spinning yet? With only one new non-tech toy coming out on top of the Toy Fair 2016 reviews, there’s no question – Toy Fair 2016 is the year of tech!