TUAW made a return to the annual Toy Fair at the Javits Center in New York, the annual sneak peek at what your kids (young and young at heart) will be clamoring to buy during the next year. Some of the items are available now, but Toy Fair gives these modern-day Geppettos a chance to introduce their works to a wider audience.
A lot of vendors are aiming their wares squarely at the education market, supplementing the growing number of children who have access to the iPad. Many of these are styluses with an educational component. You pay for the physical device, then download an extensive library of free interactive books and games from the App Store.
Kalala Magic Pen is one of the most elaborate of the introduced styli, but also one of the lowest priced. First developed as a tool to teach English as a Second Language, the pen has expanded to include a number of languages and an incredible amount of songs, learning exercises, audiobooks and more. You can rotate the dial to choose among different functions in your selected app. One of the neatest parts about the pen is that while practicing writing, if the stylus happens to stray, a vibration will put you back on track. The pen retails between $20 to $30.
The AppCrayon from Dano is in a similar vein as the Kalala Magic Pen. It physically resembles an oversized crayon and is geared toward teaching children how to write. A deluxe version of the chunky stylus has buttons along the side to let kids toggle among different colors and also features an eraser button. App Stix, aimed for older kids, resemble a traditional stylus. However, if you order one, your school gets one for free. The companion apps for AppCrayon include an innovative one that lets kids know if they're gripping the stylus too tightly and teaches them how to relax their grip when writing. The regular version of the AppCrayon is $9.99, and the deluxe is $29.99.
DigiPuppets is another stylus, but it comes in the shape of a molded finger puppet. DigiPuppets were born out of an innovation class at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. One of the students, Dan Clay, had visited Peru and was playing around with a llama finger puppet he bought there when he realized he couldn't text with the puppet on. The professor encouraged Clay to find a solution to the issue beyond not texting, and he developed DigiPuppets alongside classmate Brendan Green.
The puppets launch in May, and there's seven to choose from at the moment, with plans to expand the line. These are perfect for young kids. Retailing for $7.99, DigiPuppets slip over a finger and are easy to use. If your child happens to lose it, you're not out a lot of money. DigiPuppets come with companion iBooks, and those are available for download now.
The interaction of physical objects with the iPad is a growing sector. Tiggly, which I first saw at last year's Toy Fair and has since gone on to land in Apple retail stores, demoed a new shape that is also a counting toy. You place the shape on your iPad and use it to count objects and create drawings from those counted objects.
Ludos from Digital Dream Labs is a $119 toy that allows children to combine puzzle pieces to create simple programs that allow them to control a video game. How they put the puzzles together affects the character movements, and Ludos can be used with a desktop or a tablet. It's a great visual way to teach kids the rudimentary concepts behind programming and is a great way to introduce them to this field.
My absolute favorite item in this sector is something that is under embargo until April. I can't wait until we're able to talk about it. We'll be sharing more from Toy Fair 2014 over the next few days.