Visiting the annual Toy Fair trade show at New York's Javits Center earlier this month was an exercise in sensory overload. Hundreds of vendors, from tiny single-product companies to former garage startups grown massive to legitimate industry giants, staff booths and pitch passersby with their fun, family-friendly offerings.
While technological toys make headlines and grab attention, most of the products seen on display don't use anything more technologically advanced than a few AA batteries or some brightly colored surgical tubing. If you can throw it, build it, paint it, read it or stick it to a wall, it's represented at Toy Fair.
Most exhibitors were showing products that won't make it to store shelves until this summer if not later, but the buyers and retailers who need to plan ahead for the busy shopping seasons were happy to have an up-front look.
Among the toys with Apple tech tie-ins, quite a few used iOS device cameras to deliver augmented-reality content triggered by the design of the physical product. Ravensburger's line of AR-enabled puzzles can quiz you or plant your pictures in the middle of Times Square, and the Popar Toys books and games with AR features allow your eager reader to take pop-up books to the next level with 3D, animated storytelling matched to each page. Here's a quick video demo of Popar's technology in action.
Along with AR, the venerable QRCode showed up in a number of toy and game tie-ins. As Megan posted last week, the upcoming America's Funniest Home Videos game will be powered by QRCode scanning, with video clips embedded in the app for data-plan-free playtime. The US$14.99 Codigo Cube also uses QRCodes on a special die, with each code triggering a different trivia category in the corresponding quiz app. Given the level of frustration usually associated with real-world scanning of QRCodes, I don't know how effective this will be in the games market, but we'll see.
It's not shipping until late this spring, but the Verzis four-way family game controller looks intriguing. The flat gamepad-style controller set sits underneath your iPad, giving everyone on the table their individual controls. The real question there will be the number (and quality) of apps that end up supporting the controller; several are planned for release with the gamepad set.
Pretty much every manufacturer of remote-controlled toy vehicles has a selection of iOS-linked flyers, drivers or none-of-the-aboves. Model helicopter and car maker FunkyPlanet showed several 'copters compatible with its AppRC Fly iPhone controller (you have to add the $19.99 IR dongle yourself), and there are forthcoming Mini Cooper and Porsche models that work with the AppRC Drive app. Chinese OEM Woddon Toys has a whole line of iCon app-controlled models on the way, including the dramatic iConEyes quadcopter: camera equipped, app-piloted and looking like an angry baby Batmobile with rotors.
For pure RC cute, however, you would have to search hard to find anything more adorable than the DeskPets line of teensy RC tanks, cars and battling, maze-walking vehicles. DeskPets's TankBot models are $29.95 each, putting them on the less expensive end of the app/RC spectrum. Honorable cuteness mention gets a split decision, with both the Romo iPhone-powered tank robot and the Sphero rolling, swimming robot ghost ball drawing oohs and ahhs from passersby. Romo's going to have some competition with the Robo Me robot coming this spring. (We covered both Romo and Sphero at CES earlier this year.)
The iPhone also found itself playing a tactical role as an augmented-reality gunsight in quite a few toys, most of which won't hit stores until later this year. Tech4Kids upcoming TekRecon rubber-band shooters, due in the fall, use the iPhone as the sight while you try to tag your buddies. Metal Compass's Xappr AR gun bypasses the physical ammo altogether and links with more than 10 iPhone apps for virtual battles; it also works with a handful of Android apps as well. Unfortunately, despite an orange frontpiece the Xappr looks a little bit too realistic for comfort. Here's a quick video of the device.
Even if actual iOS games weren't overwhelming the show floor, the consequences of those games were clearly in evidence: scores of licensed products from Cut The Rope and Angry Birds. Cases, games, snacks, accessories and more -- check out the gallery for some examples. I lost count of how many Angry Birds tie-ins I saw across the exhibit space.
Honorable mention to our pals at ThinkGeek, holding down a comparatively staid and distinguished booth filled with Minecraft and Star Trek gadgets, and to the impressive breadth of Mac and iPhone-themed items at the Thumbs Up! booth. I definitely want a Padintosh iPad cover.
There were a few legitimately inventive ideas on the show floor, which we'll get to in detail in subsequent posts. Tiggly Shapes looks like a very promising iPad toy for preschoolers, and the Apptivators line of iPad toppers definitely garnered some attention.
Our former Engadget colleague Joanna Stern, now covering the tech beat for ABC News, found some of the higher-profile iOS tie-ins at the show, including the clever Nerf Cyberhoop basketball hoop/app combo (the app does automatic scoring, listening for the audio of a made basket) and the technologically impressive, deeply creepy Barbie Makeover Mirror. This particular product, which I did not get in to see (Mattel's full-floor solo exhibit space at Toy Fair was by appointment only, and fully booked up when I inquired) uses the iPad's front-facing camera in mirror mode, then allows the player to apply virtual eye shadow, blush and lipstick via a Bluetooth-linked palette of plastic makeup. The applied color then tracks her (or his) facial features. We've got until August to get used to this idea.
We'll be sharing a few more of our impressions from Toy Fair over the next few days.