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Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013 12:01 am

Toy land, toy land … tablet, game and joy land

This year, look for tech, nostalgia and popular brands to sell big

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Disney infinity (above) Skylanders swap force (below); $74.99 each


Innovation. Building skills. Out-of-the-box thinking. This year, toys trends are more about stretching the mind than providing temporary entertainment – or finding new ways to do both.

“This is the year of toys powered by kids’ imaginations,” says Marianne Szymanski, the founder and president of Toy Tips, Inc., an international child development research group.

Billy Lagor, senior vice president of U.S. marketing at Hasbro, agrees:  “This year it’s all about customization, and the merging of digital and face-to-face play, along with new ways to play with classic favorites.”

Meaning, in simple terms: tablets, robots and building toys with a million little pieces are all the rage.

Tech bytes
Tablets were a big deal last year, but in 2013 the “tablet market has exploded,” according to Laurie Schacht, co-publisher of Toy Insider, also known as the “Toy Insider Mom.”

The VTech Inno Tab 3S ($99.99, ages 3 to 9) and the XO Learning Tablet ($149, ages 4 to 14) are two popular tablets for kids, as is the Disney Creativity Studio – Smart Stylus ($50), which works in conjunction with the Disney Creativity Studio iPad app ($4 in the Apple Store). It’s a nice treat for kids with iPad-owning parents who aren’t afraid to let them handle the device.

That technology crossover – using something new, like a stylus, to “renovate” an existing product, like an iPad – is a big trend in the toy world right now. The Telepods line is a “digital gaming platform for the mobile generation,” Lagor says. With the Angry Birds Star Wars II app (available Sept. 19), kids can “teleport” physical Angry Birds toys into the app and use them within. They just have to tap the Telepods icon in the game to get started. When the game is off, they can play with the Angry Birds toys, which they can set up and strategically knock down, just like in the game.

Disney Interactive’s Disney Infinity and Skylanders Swap Force (both $74.99 for a starter pack) use that same concept – mixing physical toys with a virtual world – and are both expected to be big hits, according to Schacht.  

Nostalgia rules
For parents perturbed by the thought of glitzy teleporting tech, fear not – classic toys like Cabbage Patch dolls, Smurfs, Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs are big again this year. “Parents and grandparents love to share the toys they remember and adored growing up with their kids and grandkids,” Schacht says of this trend.
Updates on classics are also making rounds. Lagor makes note of Monopoly Empire, a new spin on everyone’s favorite money-hungry board game. In Empire ($19.99, ages 8 and up), properties are replaced with popular brand names of entities kids will recognize, like McDonalds, Xbox and Coke.

Twister, the dotted arm-tangling game, also has an update: Dance Rave ($34.99, ages 8 to 14), which hooks up to an MP3 player and comes with movable Twister spots that get players dancing.

Doc mcstuffins get better check up center; $79.99

Big name, big money
Kids are also suckers for anything recognizable to them – which is why toys based on popular movies, TV shows and preexisting brands are some of this year’s most anticipated.  

Sofia the First, Talking Sofia and Animal Friends ($39.99, ages 3 and up) should be a big hit with little girls, as should anything Doc McStuffins-related. McStuffins toys, also based on a hit Disney show, were some of the top sellers last year. This year, the Doc McStuffins Get Better Check Up Center ($79.99, ages 3 and up) should be a hot gift.

As for movies, the minions from “Despicable Me 2” were the breakout characters of the year – and that should translate to the toy world, too, like with the Talking Minion doll ($39.99, ages 4 to 12).
Can we fix it?
If a kid can build it, a kid will want it this year. VTech’s Go! Go! Smart Wheels Construction Playset ($34.99, ages 1 to 3) lets little ones assemble a puzzle-like race course. First Builder’s Billy Beats Dancing Piano ($39.99, ages 1 to 5) is both musical and builder-friendly – he even holds other First Builders blocks under his red hat.

For slightly older kids, K’NEX Thunderbolt Strike ($119) comes with 850 pieces and more than 17 feet of connectors.

At the end of the day
Even with all the gadgets and intricacies in toys this year, the biggest name of the season is… the Rainbow Loom?

Yes, the Rainbow Loom. The colorful bracelet-making kit, invented by a Michigan man named Choon Ng for his daughters, took off earlier this year. The Loom is only available in specialty stores and runs for $14.99, and “while it may not remain as hot as we head into the holidays, it will remain a great and inexpensive gift for kids of all ages,” according to Schacht.

“Kids have become crafty, more imaginative and are now interested in making their own designs,” says Szymanski of the trend.

Regardless of what your kid is yearning for – from techiest of the tech to the simplest bracelet maker – Schacht says to remember that they’re the ones you should be listening to.

“It’s all about what your kids love,” Schacht explains. “Understanding how they play, and what they like best will help ensure a great choice for a toy that is played with and enjoyed many times over.”

© CTW Features


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