It's our first year touring Japan's premier toy show, and we'd be happy to do it again. Among traditional wooden blocks, tricycles, action figures and card games (so many card games!) there's a plenty of toys with a suprisingly high level of technology -- like maglev toy trains. Japanese toymakers are continuing to produce robot toys, hoping for either an AIBO-like moment of fame, or at least a hit for the holidays. Several companies were also trying to convince not-quite-teens to get their parents to pay out for (admittedly cheaper) smartphone-like gadgets. One LINE-branded gadget even lets tweens play games, send stickers and messages once it's either within range of a friend's (actual) smartphone or through WiFi -- it uses a low-fi, simpler version of the messaging app. Surprisingly, for a trade show, nearly every product on show here already had a price and a launch date -- at least for this side of the Pacific. Many, many more toys, after the break.
MiP: the controllable toy robot waiter
MiP is a two-wheeled robot that keeps itself upright Segway-style, and hurls itself around without bumping into things... most of the time. By rotating the wheel, the robot cycles through seven modes, with a dance, balance (for carrying things around), running, controller, free running and study modes. With sensors built into the front, you can can either rebuff his advances, or gently steer him by gesturing to the left or right of the robot's eyes. With a smartphone, you can draw a route with your finger, battle other MiPs or just get it to dance along with your music collection.
We were most impressed with its ability to carry around small objects (our drinks), although it looks like you'll have to place the drink on MiP's tray before ordering it somewhere, which defeats the purpose of it, namely our own laziness. The robot is being pitched as a toy for both kids and adults, and it's an undercurrent of the entire show. A decreasing population and low birthrate has meant that Japan's toymakers are casting their net wider than normal: if adults are interested, then there's simply a better chance of it being to a top-selling toy. MiP will launch this week for 15,000 yen.
Pet robot cats! (And dogs. And chicks)
Dream Cat Celeb is here. That's a direct translation of this furry, carry-able (weighs as much as a cat?) robot with touch sensors along its head, chest, back and tail. Just like the real thing, it doesn't like it when you touch its tail. The facial expressions are pretty good, although robotic whirring and squeaking needed to accomplish that ruins the effect a bit. This new model is set to arrive in Japan next month, priced at 12,000 yen ($117) but Hasbro says the cat is still in development, so this may not be the very final model. We'd like the fur to be a bit more soft, because it still has an unfortunate plastic, artificial feel to it. We also have high expectations for robot cats.
A more portable, cheaper, pet than the cat, this chick will also arrive next month, priced at around 2700 yen ($26), and it packs a single sensor on the top of its head. Pet it properly, and its tiny wings will flutter. If you're into neon-colored chicks, the company also had blue, mint green and pink versions, although theses were currently only for show.
Primed to capitalize on that meme, the bigger (and heavier), Shiba-chan can run on its battery, or while being plugged in. It reacts to voice commands, (the makers say it has 85 different behaviors) although the current developmental model had some issues hearing through the noise and general mayhem of a toy show. In Japanese, it was able to shake hands, sit up and beg, while petting it right will make Shiba-chan wag its tale and "make happy noises". There's even the obligatory toy bone that it'll hold onto if you offer it up to his mouth. Man's best robot friend won't be cheap: when it launches this November, it'll be priced at 40,000 yen ($392) .
That smartphone boom? Toymakers want to get young-'uns hooked early with substantially cheaper (and let's not kid ourselves) less advanced communication devices. They run the full gamut of functionality: some were running Android (with app store access), while others had their own UI that looked like Android but were actually pretty bare-bones -- they did connect to purikura photo booths -- they're very big in Japan. The LINE "My Touch Smart" mentioned in the intro runs everything from a LINE-styled portal, although the admittedly chunky device did have a camera, over 300 stickers built-in and a micro-SD slot for music playback. The other phone toys are heavily bejeweled, and you can haveany color as long as it's pink (and possibly powder blue.) Prices for these hover around the $100 mark, however, making it a whole cheaper than an iPod touch.
More coverage from the Tokyo Toy Show 2014: