Forget dollhouses, footballs and jigsaw puzzles – kids today want tech in their toys.
Whether it’s products designed for learning, such as the stellar Leapfrog offerings, or straight-up toys for toys sake, many of 2013’s most wanted fuse entertainment with electronics.
Heck, even LEGO has evolved into buildable robots with “on-brick programming," while many classic board games let you place your iPad in the middle of the action -- including Hasbro’s zAPPed editions of The Game of Life, Monopoly and Battleship.
The following is a look at a few of bigger tech-infused toys expected to debut this year:
Action figures + video games
How do you top Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure and Skylanders Giants, which have sold more than 100 million toys between the two games? If you’re Activision, you announce the third installment in the billion dollar franchise.
As with its predecessors, Skylanders SWAP Force marries a video game with action figures, placed on a Portal of Power that‘s connected to the console. The moment you drop down the characters, they’re unlocked inside the game world. Along with supporting all existing Skylanders toys, 16 all-new fighters let fans swap tops with bottoms, to create more than 250 unique character combinations with mixed and matched powers.
Just like the first two Skylanders adventures, the collectible characters also have embedded memory that retains info from the game, such as acquired skills and leveling up information.
Skylanders SWAP Force will be available for multiple consoles this fall.
Similarly, Disney has enjoyed tremendous success with its mobile game series, such as Where’s My Water? and Tap Tap Revenge, but they’re now taking it a step further with a new platform called Disney Infinity.
Starring beloved characters from Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, these games for consoles and mobile devices will let players build their own worlds with familiar faces, vehicles and settings. Similar to Skylanders, Disney Infinity integrates collectible character figures that come to life inside the game, when placed on a base, plus they can share their experiences in the “Toy Box” mode with friends both online and off.
To start, the Disney Infinity platform includes 40 collectible interactive pieces, based on Toy Story, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Incredibles and Monsters University -- with availability beginning this summer. More info is here at the official website.
Tablets for toddlers
Worried your kids will drop your iPad or Android tab?
Young children can now have their very own touchscreen tablet – with educational apps to play on it – with VTech’s InnoTab 2 Baby and InnoTab 2S Wi-Fi Learning App Tablet.
Both durable tablets offer an expansive app catalog, for each age and developmental stage, plus parents can track their child's progress through the online Learning Lodge feature.
For kids age 1 to 9 years, InnoTab 2 Baby ($89.99) includes content specifically for infants, including learning games, photo slideshows (with zoo, forest and sea creatures), a Noah's Ark e-book, sing-along nursery rhyme songs, drawing and coloring activities and an app called Baby Sign Language, featuring 100 popular signs. The tablet ships with a soft, removable gel bumper that helps protect the tablet from drops and tumbles.
For kids age 3 through 9, the InnoTab 2S Wi-Fi Learning App Tablet ($99.99) supports both downloadable apps and cartridges, including games, e-books, music and videos, and other interactive activities. Content is based on popular franchises, such as Sesame Street, Dora the Explorer, Thomas & Friends, Angelina Ballerina, Mike the Knight, Team Umizoomi and Jake & the Neverland Pirates.
Board games meet apps
Hasbro has rereleased its classic board games -- like The Game of Life, Monopoly and Battleship -- but has added a high-tech twist involving the hottest tech toy today: the iPad.
The Game of Life zAPPed Edition ($24.99), for example, looks like the regular board game at first glance, but there’s a spot in the middle to place the iPad, after you've download the free The Game of Life zAPPed app from the App Store. Now, up to four players can take turns spinning a virtual wheel on the iPad, travel around the game board in their little car and progress through the “game of life,” enhanced by cute animated sequences, sound effects and more than 100 humorous video clips from "America’s Funniest Videos" seen on the tablet’s 9.7-inch screen.
These videos are all tied to the major milestones in life, such as graduating from school, starting a career, getting married and having kids. For example, you might see a clip of a mother lying with her quadruplets and all laughing uncontrollably (out of sleep-deprivation for the mom, no doubt).
Taking about an hour to play, this zAPPed game plays very much like the classic Life, except careers have been modernized (example: video game designer) as have prices and salaries. Whoever finishes “life” with the most money, wins, of course.
Performing pets and robots, too
Considered the most technologically advanced puppy on the market, Spin Master is grooming its Zoomer ($99.99) for a fall launch.
Designed for ages 5 and older, the voice-activated puppy can learn tricks, such as sitting, rolling over and playing dead -- all by your voice commands. Thanks to its fast wheel feet you can take it for a walk and pet your panting pup when you return, before it naps by your feet.
Chest sensors track objects and help Zoomer avoid obstacles, while five motors and detailed joints enable realistic movement. Colored LED eyes blink and look at you.
Parents will be happy to know Zoomer doesn’t require batteries – simply charge via USB cable.
Due out this summer for roughly $350, the LEGO Mindstorms EV3 is a robotics kit that lets kids (and kids at heart) build five different robots out of the box – such as a humanoid, vehicle and reptile – plus you can download a dozen more designs or make your very own creations.
With free smartphone or tablet apps (Android and iOS), you'll be able to program and control these creatures to do what you want. Plus, you can expect them to interact with the environment on their own as these robots have infrared sensors for autonomous play, such as the snake-like robot that lunges and hisses if it senses something in front of it.