Spielwarenmesse: Electronic toys: a rapidly growing segment shaped by connectivity

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Electronic toys: a rapidly growing segment shaped by connectivity

from Peter Thomas

The world of electronic toys is growing very dynamically, with electronic features appearing in ever more segments. Interfaces to smart devices are becoming increasingly commonplace. All the more reason to look forward to the next Spielwarenmesse® 2019 in Nuremberg, which will showcase for the first time an Electronic Toys product group covering 7,600 square metres in Hall 4A. Children and young people are fascinated by electronic toys, but parents are also increasingly open to new technology.

Electronic technology is pervading play worlds

Electronics are a major factor in new worlds of play and themed experiences for children and young people. This is obvious from the current toy market, with electronics and digital technology gaining a foothold in more and more segments, ranging from traditional spinning tops with digital counters and mini camera drones flown using intuitive smartphone controls through to multi-functional robots and robot construction kits with myriad programming options and interactive playmates with smart voice recognition.

Anyone thinking screens are the be-all and end-all when it comes to electronics is definitely misguided. Harry Boughton, the main buyer for the British department store John Lewis, also confirmed in late August 2018 that the current trend is away from screens and towards toys that encourage children to get moving and exploring – not least through the integration of electronic features.

The revolution has reached all corners of the market

The possibilities for electronic and digital play have never been greater thanks to the fusion of conventional play worlds and smart gadgets. And development is proceeding apace: right at the start of this decade, in 2011, we were told that Germany was facing a “digital revolution in children’s bedrooms”.

And now, as we near the end of the decade? The revolution has resulted in strong and sustainable market penetration. This has been aided in no small part by the ubiquitous use of smartphones and tablets among children nowadays. Even preschool children have a crucial say in decisions on toy purchases, as confirmed by a qualitative study conducted by media agency Mediaplus in August 2018. The use of artificial intelligence also facilitates ever more powerful interactions between people and virtual play worlds, such as through digital formats of popular analogue games.

Parents are open to electronic toys

VTech: BlaBlaBlocks
VTech: BlaBlaBlocks

Adult purchasers of toys, particularly parents, have also changed their attitude and now respond with informed openness to new features and media: “Parents have become very broad-minded with respect to tech products”, says VTech. The international group has been focusing on electronic learning toys since 1977. These include child-friendly adaptations of digital devices such as smart watches and tablets.

“Parents want their children to dip their toe in the multimedia world in a safe and age-appropriate manner”, says Saskia Bodemer-Stachelski, a product manager at VTech. With the new BlaBlaBlocks for children aged under two, VTech is combining traditional building blocks in the shape of animals and other motifs with digital worlds of sound: words, entire sentences and noises are played when the children put the blocks together – according to the motifs created. Next year, VTech Electronics Europe plans to launch a new preschool line.

Shifu offers another example of digitally enhanced building blocks. The Indian manufacturer’s “Minglings” can be combined to create fantastical creatures. Children can then play along with their digital avatars via tablet on the companion app.

Diversity is key

You need only glance at the market to notice the sheer diversity in the electronic toy segment. This is also obvious from the Global Industry Trend Analysis for the electronic toy market conducted by Persistence Market Research which is currently being prepared and due for publication in November 2018: besides remote-controlled toys and electronic learning toys, the authors also include mechanical toys, music toys and more as electronic toys.

Of course, the lines are blurred between individual segments. Robotics is one good example of this, encompassing conventional electronics, programming and mechanical toys. The increasing use of robotics has been particularly evident in traditional construction toys over recent years, with Lego, for example, having launched its Boost robot in 2017. Spin Master from Canada will focus on showcasing itself in the Electronic Toys segment at the Spielwarenmesse® from 2019 onwards. The company already introduced Meccanoids robots under its Meccano brand in 2015 and has since expanded its offering.

Play and science

fischertechnik: ROBOTICS TXT Smart Home
fischertechnik: ROBOTICS TXT Smart Home

Fischertechnik has also been focussing on robotics for several years and brought out its brand-new Robotics TXT Smart Home construction kit in spring 2018. The kit was developed in collaboration with the University of Applied Sciences in Münster. The German company is delighted with the result: “Demand for electronic toys is rising as the possibilities grow”, says Fischertechnik. Children aged ten and older are particularly interested in programming and connecting toys with smart devices. Therefore, the company is working on offering further ways of programming models. Fischertechnik also intends to pursue this strategy in the future together with partners from the world of science.

Science kits, a traditional learning toy, are also leaning towards robotics. For instance, Tech Will Save Us is bridging programming and construction with its Micro:Bot pack. This kit, developed with the BBC in the UK, can be used to create three different programmable robots.

Playtime with droids and digital zoos

Of course, robots make fun playmates as well. Take the stylish range of droids from the Star Wars films offered by Bladez Toyz: the remote-controlled robots have an inflatable body which makes them a great choice for any home in spite of their impressive height of almost 70 centimetres and nippy moves. And Silverlit not only has hard-hitting Robo Kombat boxers in its range, but also humorous mechanical creatures such as the Robo Chameleon, which won a Toy Award at the Spielwarenmesse® in 2018.

Silverlit: Robo Chameleon
Silverlit: Robo Chameleon
Wonder Workshop: Cue
Wonder Workshop: Cue

The step from robotics to electronic learning toys is close at hand. After all, children and young people are able to pick up increasingly important programming skills through playing with robots. This is especially intuitively achieved with solutions which allow children to toggle between different programming languages with varying degrees of difficulty. Wonder Workshop, for example, offers switching between block and JavaScript programming in the app for its cue training robot.

However, children and young people are not restricted to learning STEM skills (science, technology, engineering and maths) when playing with electronic toys. Geography, zoology and other topics can also be explored through augmented reality in particular – in other words, by superimposing digital content onto paper-based games and other objects. Suddenly, animals are brought to life on a globe. Or entire zoos can be explored, such as with Popup Zoo 2 from Neobear. Apps which project virtual content using the camera image are key to this.

Electrical power

Many new developments are also coming on stream among the popular classic electronic toys such as remote-controlled vehicles, the extremely successful drones of all shapes and sizes and car racing tracks. RC toys in particular are benefiting from continuous improvements in battery life and new remote-control solutions. Take Carrera RC’s ultra-compact Micro HD Air Cam Copter: the pocket-sized camera drone can be controlled via smartphone or tablet while streaming your HD videos to your screen.

In what direction is electronic toy development headed? The international Spielwarenmesse® 2019 will indicate the way with its new Electronic Toys product group and now third Tech2Play activity area. However, the trend is clear: innovative solutions mean there are practically no limits to imagination or features. This also holds for the age-old successful medium of storytelling, with offerings such as the interactive Lingufino from Dialog Toys and Moonlite storybook projector for your smartphone from Spin Master.

Traditional crafts and construction have also long featured in the electronic world: 3D printing is already part of play worlds to some extent thanks to TinkerToys, for example, and children’s own designs can be produced at home with simple-to-use 3D printers – such as the devices in the nano series from XYZprinting which weigh only 4.7 kg.

See the new product group Electronic toys in Nuremberg from January 30 to February 3, 2019 to update your product range. Stay up-to-date until then with the Spielwarenmesse® newsletter.


Author of this article:

Peter Thomas, Journalist

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