KB Toys, Child World, FAO Schwartz, and Toys ‘R Us were all once successful retail toy store chains. As the demands of kids and teens has moved away from traditional toys toward video game consoles and the interactive gaming experiences offered by smartphones and tablets, many traditional toy, board game, and plush toy manufacturers have all experienced tough times in recent years. This has resulted in many retail toy stores going out of business. These days, even mass-market consumer retailers like Target and Wal-Mart typically dedicate more shelf space to consumer electronics and video games than to displaying the latest toys.
To help combat these trends and rekindle interest in traditional toys, companies like Hasbro, Fisher-Price, LEGO, and many others have begun adding interactive components to traditional toys, plush toys, and board games. In many cases, this means integrating a proprietary iPhone/iPhone app with the tangible toy to create a new type of game play experience that better caters to the wants of tech-savvy kids and teens.
Let’s take a look at 10 of the more creative ways toy companies have reimagined popular (yet traditional) toys, plush toys, and board games in order to make them work in conjunction with an Apple iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. As more and more young people are getting their hands on iOS mobile devices, many traditional toys will soon be adding some type of interactive digital component to their offerings.
Barbie Digital Makeover Mirror
New for 2013, Mattel has introduced Barbie Digital Makeover Mirror, which takes advantage of facial tracking technology to transform an iPad into a digital mirror that allows young girls to select make-up options to superimpose over their live image on the tablet’s screen, without having to physically apply potentially messy cosmetics.
For example, a girl can experiment with eye shadow, lipstick, and glitter. This augmented reality app also works in conjunction with the Disney Princess Ultimate Dream Castle (sold separately). When used together, young girls can unlock activities and transform themselves into one of the Disney princesses. Prices and release dates for these two products have yet to be announced.
Crayola DigiTools Ultra Pack
Crayola crayons and markers allow young people to create colorful works of art on paper. Now, Crayola DigiTools from Griffin, which are included within the Crayola DigiTools Ultra Pack ($49.95), use digital markers, brushes, rollers, and glasses enables users to create two- or three-dimensional artwork on the iPad’s screen, which can then be printed using a compatible AirPrint printer.
In essence, these digital markers and tools are kid-shaped styluses that are used to draw on the iPad’s screen. However, the proprietary app used in conjunction with these drawing and painting tools is what identifies the tool being used and then displays the appropriate marker or brush type on the tablet’s screen.
For tech-savvy kids under the age of 10 who have access to an iPad, Crayola DigiTools Ultra Pack offers a fun and creative alternative to drawing or painting on paper. This product is useful when traveling with kids in a car or airplane, for example, when space is limited and a mess is not desirable.
Disney Spotlight Digital Wireless Mic + Karaoke App
When kids plug the microphone accessory that comes with the Disney Spotlight Digital Wireless Mic + Karaoke App into an iPad ($99.95), they can add a little musical zip-a-dee-do-dah to their day. The karaoke app’s tools help make the singer sound perfect as they sing along with and record some of their favorite Disney songs. It’s also possible to easily add vocal effects as someone is singing.
The package comes with 10 popular Disney songs, along with the special wireless microphone. The proprietary app allows for music or video to be recorded, played back, and shared. Like any good Karaoke machine, this one displays the song lyrics on the screen as someone is singing.
Fisher-Price Create & Learn Case for iPad
The Laugh and Learn Apptivity Case for iPhone and iPods ($15) was designed to make the iPhone and iPod accessible to infants and toddlers. Now the Fisher-Price Create & Learn Case for iPad ($35) is designed to safely hold and protect the tablet while a young child interacts with it in conjunction with Fisher-Price’s free Laugh & Learn apps, which have generated more than 6.5 million downloads to date via the App Store.
Built into the case are busy beads and an oversize handle, which make it easy for small hands to carry and hold the iPad. However, the case itself encloses the entire tablet with a protective casing that includes special rounded corners. One great feature of this case is that it also blocks the iPad’s Home button, so infants and toddlers can use the Fisher-Price apps without accidently exiting out of them.
Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Apptivity Puppy and Monkey
Fisher-Price’s Laugh & Learn Apptivity Puppy for iPhone ($30) resembles an adorable and colorful plush puppy. Built into the puppy’s tummy is an iPhone holder that totally encompasses the smartphone, allowing infants and toddlers (ages six months and up) to use the phone’s touch screen without damaging the device. For 2013, the company has followed up this popular toy with the Laugh & Learn Apptivity Monkey ($30), which is sold separately.
The specialized app available for the Laugh & Learn Apptivity Puppy (or Monkey) for iPhone teaches letters, numbers, and counting, as well as shapes and colors. The app and toy combo includes more than 75 songs and tunes. These are excellent examples of traditional plush toy products where seamless integration with the iPhone transforms the traditional toys into fun, cuddly, and musical interactive learning tools.
Hasbro’s Furby ($59.99) were among the most popular toys this past holiday season among kids ages six and up. Unlike previously released Furbys, however, this latest rendition comes in a wide range of colors and is capable of communicating wirelessly with the iPhone or iPad via Bluetooth. As a result, the proprietary Furby app (available from the App Store) offers innovative ways for young people to interact with, speak to, feed, and play with their “pet.”
Thanks to the programming built into the Furby plush toys, as well as the app, the toy is capable of learning and evolving as it’s played with. Plus, as Hasbro updates the app, new features and functionality can easily be added. The sensors built into the Furby toy allow kids to touch, tickle, hold, and play peek-a-boo with Furby, for example, while further interaction is done via the app. Furby also reacts to sounds and music, and is able to dance and move accordingly.
LAZER TAG by NERF
Traditional laser tag games have used infrared light guns and sensors in an effort to create a realistic and interactive futuristic combat experience. NERF’s LAZER TAG uses a high-tech LAZER TAG Blaster that features an iPhone 4/4S holder instead of a viewfinder. The LAZER TAG app nicely combines the real-world game play of laser tag with a virtual video game-like experience.
When holding the LAZER TAG blaster, the iPhone’s camera displays what’s directly in front of the player in the real world using the phone’s built-in camera. Then, the app superimposes alien enemies and uses specialized tracking technology so the player can compete against human players and virtual enemies simultaneously.
NERF LAZER TAG can be played as a one-player game with one lazer blaster (designed to hold the iPhone while running the LAZER TAG app). Or, two players can compete in the real world simultaneously, with each player holding his or her own lazer blaster (which in turn holds an iPhone that’s running the LAZER TAG app).
A single NERF LAZER TAG Blaster is priced at $49.99 (including the app), while a “twin pack” that includes two blasters is priced at $79.99. Currently, several different NERF LAZER TAG apps are available, which include different gaming objectives and missions. Each is available for free from the App Store, but they require the NERF LAZER TAG Blaster to experience.
LEGO’s Life of George
By combining traditional LEGO building blocks with a proprietary iPhone app that takes advantage of the camera that’s built into the smartphone, LEGO’s Life of George game ($29.99) offers an innovative game player experience that requires real-world LEGO brick building. Designed for one to four players, Life of George is a turn-based game that comes with 144 LEGO building blocks and a specially designed game board. Two different Life of George apps for the iPhone are available (free) from the App Store.
On the iPhone’s screen, the app displays a picture of a LEGO model that players then need to re-create in real life using the supplied LEGO bricks. Players take turns racing against the digital clock (displayed on the iPhone’s screen) to build each model as quickly as possible. When the model is completed, it is placed on the game board and photographed using the iPhone’s built-in camera and the Life of George app. The app then instantly scans the image and provides a score for the player based on the speed and accuracy in which the model was built. The app keeps track of all game scores as players compete in each round of the game. Each round gets increasingly more challenging.
The Life of George app includes more than 250 LEGO models that can be built; however, the app also includes a mode that allows players to design their own models, which can then be incorporated into the game.
LEGO building blocks have been around since 1932, and have captured the imaginations of kids and teens around the world ever since. Life of George offers another excellent example of how a traditional toy’s interactive experience can be expanded with the help of the iPhone.
MONOPOLY zAPPed Edition
Since 1935, more than 1 billion people have played Hasbro’s MONOPOLY board game, making it one of the most popular traditional board games in the world. Over the years, many different versions or editions of MONOPOLY have been introduced, including video game adaptations and stand-alone iPhone/iPad editions of the game (available from the App Store).
Most recently, Hasbro has integrated the traditional MONOPOLY board game with an interactive app to create MONOPOLY zAPPed Edition ($29.99).
This edition of the game looks very similar to the original board game. However, in the center of the traditional game board is a place to position the iPhone, iPad, iPad mini, or iPod touch. When used with the MONOPOLY zAPPed Edition app (available from the App Store), all of the game’s banking functions are controlled by the app. Plus, the app includes music, sound effects, and animations that are displayed in real time based on what transpires when two or more people are playing the real-world game. MONOPOLY zAPPed Edition also includes app-based mini games that pop up during regular game play, which nicely integrates a video game play experience with the traditional board game.
The core rules and fun that MONOPOLY fans of all ages have enjoyed for decades remain the same, but the integration of the iPhone/iPad app adds a high-tech twist to the overall game play experience. MONOPOLY zAPPed Edition is designed to be played by two to four players, ages eight and up.
Hasbro has also released “zapped” editions of other traditional and popular board games, including THE GAME OF LIFE: zAPPed Edition, BATTLESHIP zAPPed edition, and SPELLSHOT zAPPed edition (each sold separately).
Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 App-Controlled Quadricopter
Thanks to the iPhone and iPad, remote-controlled toys have been taken to an entirely new level of interactivity. Many different companies have released remote-controlled cars, planes, helicopters, and other vehicles that can be controlled wirelessly via Bluetooth using any iOS mobile device and a specialized app. The Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 App-Controlled Quadricopter ($299.95) is a slick-looking remote-controlled quadricopter that has a built-in HD camera. Not only does the iPhone/iPad app allow pilots to control the radio-controlled device as it’s flown, digital photos or HD movies can simultaneously be filmed and later viewed post-flight on the iOS device’s screen.
Using the iPhone or iPad to pilot the quadricopter, it has a range of 165 feet. Pilots use the iOS mobile device to pilot the device as it takes off, gains altitude, flies, hovers, performs mid-air tricks, and lands. The built-in stabilization system and attachable indoor hull make it easier to fly and control both indoors and outdoors. Four different apps are available from the iPhone to pilot the vehicle and participate in flight missions and/or races.
While many remote-controlled toys are now available that work with the iPhone/iPad, this particular one is designed more for teens and young adults.
It’s easy to hand your child an iPhone or iPad and then allow him or her to play traditional video games on it for hours on end. The App Store offers thousands of excellent games that are suitable for players of all ages.
However, when the same iOS mobile devices are paired with a traditional toy, a young person is forced to experience playtime in the real world and virtual world at the same time, which provides a more dynamic and engaging experience.
As the popularity of these new generations of traditional toys that work seamlessly with an iPhone or iPad increases, we’ll no doubt see more toy and app developers creating new and innovative ways for people to enjoy playtime in both the real world (potentially with other people) and in the virtual world simultaneously.