Walking the halls of the massive 42,000 square metre New York Toy Fair can be a bewildering experience. However, over the course of the three days of the show, a number of toy trends emerged that will likely shape which products you see on toy shop shelves in the coming year.
Technology is leveraged to bring your favourite movie and TV franchises to life in new ways. It’s a growing trend that the Toy Industry Association estimates accounts for as much as 30 per cent of toy sales.
The products that stood at at the Toy Fair were toys that not only slapped a movie brand on existing products but those that intelligently used technology to create new experiences.
Lego have been doing this for a while but this year the closeness of the toys to the real thing really impressed. Whether this was Cinderella’s Enchanted carriage or a Lego mermaid version of Ariel the brick toys extended the movie experience in clever ways.
Lego Star Wars sets were also on hand to add story and characters to the Freemaker Adventures spin-off series. Of course we are looking forward to seeing the sets of The Last Jedi but we'll have to wait a little longer for that.
Mattel’s remote controlled Batmobile is another good example here. Not only does it match the look of the film but it also employs a range of tech features like real smoke, hydraulics and an in-car camera to impress on all fronts.
Video-game licenses also proliferated. The best implementation of these was from Mattel’s newly rebranded Mega Contrux line (previously Mega Bloks), which included vehicles, characters and playsets for Pokemon, Destiny and Halo.
There's a close attention to detail here to match not only the technology and characters from the games, but to do so in a way that also enables youngsters to play with them on the living room floor. A nice reason to switch the screen of for a while.
Toys that encourage children to learn can be an important point of first contact with potential careers and hobbies. To this end the Dancing and Code Bell doll stood out. It’s an articulated dancing figure as you would find in a jewellery box.
Here though it’s freed from the box and controlled by a simple drag and drop app. It may seem simple but this effectively puts a new demographic in touch with how coding works and would be a good first step towards coding with scratch.
Along similar lines (although more advanced) is the Lego Boost system. This uses a combination of sensors, motors, lights and sound to enable children to create and program their own Lego version of Wall-E.
Getting children up and running about is always popular with parents. Nerf have been doing this for years but at Toy Fair they introduced new ways to shoot each other with darts. The Modulus line added a real infra-red scope to be able to shoot in the dark. The new Star Wars nerf gun included lights, sounds and glow-in-the-dark ammunition.
The new Hanazuki range of toys tie-in to a TV show but also encourage children to take their toys out and about with them. It includes a fit-band style wearable that has different collectible charms attached to change the colours that light up. The watch and the charms are then used to unlock abilities and content in the related app. Clever clever.
This is another trend at the New York Toy Fair. We’ve seen animated plastic creatures before but the level of personality and functionality this year takes these toys to another level.
Zoomer Show Pony may sound like a simple toy for kids but it actually employs speech recognition, an evolving intelligence and movement sensors to create a play experience unlike anything I’d seen before.
Meccano Max and Mecca Spider took this in another direction with a build-able robot that you can interact with directly or control with an app. Mecca Spider was a lot of fun, even mischievously spraying water at passers by.
Hatchimals were popular last year and will be back again in glittery form. This, along with a mini collectible sister product extends the technology. More interesting will be how they extend this line closer to christmas.
Hasbro’s FurReal line was extended with a self-build robot called Makers Proto Max along with a high end life-like tiger called Roarin’ Tyler. Both these impressed with complex and integrated functions that combine to create a real sense of personality.
Andy Robertson is a freelance technology expert for national press and broadcast media. He also runs the Family Gamer TV YouTube channel