High-tech child's play
Soon, experts say, the real thing may be cheaper than the plaything that is designed to mimic it.
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"The controversy is that with traditional toys, like the traditional doll, kids have to be creative and generate the conversation with the doll," says Dr. Cerio. "When you have a doll that's programmed to respond in certain ways to the child, it takes away the spontaneity and creativity of the child's own thought process. That's the piece you lose with high-tech toys versus traditional toys."Skip to next paragraph
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On Wall Street, where mountains of money move to the rhythm of tiny feet, toys are a very serious business. The prevailing trend of high-tech toys emulating grown-up products is elevating how much is spent on toys, despite the decline in the cost of electronics. The average price for a big-ticket item this Christmas is $53, McGowan says. Last year, the hottest toys sold for about $40. Such a dramatic price shift may backfire on toy companies.
"It doesn't feel like the kind of year where consumers are going to embrace that kind of percentage increase," McGowan says. "I don't know which one of those products is going to be a bestseller, but I can guarantee you someone on that list is going to be disappointed."
Another pitfall for toy companies that "juvenilize" products: Adult products will soon be cheap enough to give to a child instead of a toy. Hasbro's "ZoomBox" is essentially a cheap video projector that is made and marketed for children. This $299 "toy" lets kids project and play video games on blank walls. Another example is Hasbro's $99 imitation cellular phone called "Chat Now." Despite its flip-phone fanciness and built-in black-and-white camera, Chat Now cannot actually place a telephone call.
"Kids know the difference between a cellphone and a walkie-talkie as soon as they go to make a phone call," McGowan says. "You give this to an 8-year-old and he'll say 'Nice try, but I want the real thing.' This one might sell this year, but next year the real one's price might be so low, why not just buy the real thing?"
Toy Wishes Magazine makes annual predictions of the most popular toys for the holiday gift-giving season. Its "Holiday Hot Dozen" this year includes (in alphabetical order):
Black Belts Karate Home Studio (Spin Master, 3 years & up, $24.99) A complete karate studio that helps younger kids learn the basics of karate.
Dora's Talking Kitchen (Fisher-Price, 2 years & up, $79.99) Kitchen play set designed after Nickelodeon's "Dora the Explorer."
Fly Wheels Assortment (Jakks Pacific, 8 years & up, $4.99-$39.99) This new assortment lets kids add stunt ramps, rapid fire launchers and change the wheel size on the original Fly Wheels remote-controlled car.
Furby (Hasbro, 8 years & up, $39.99) New and improved, this furry friend comes with facial expressions and voice-recognition technology.
I-Dog (Hasbro, 8 years & up, $29.99) This robotic dog features iPod stylings and responds with lights, sounds, and movement to whatever music you play.
iZ (Zizzle, 5 years & up, $39.99) By plugging a music player into this alien creature, children can manipulate the sound by turning its ears and flicking its antennae.
Leapster L-Max Learning Game System (LeapFrog, pre-K through 4th grade, $99.99) This hand-held educational video-game lets kids develop and reinforce skills in language, math, logic, writing, and spelling.
The Magnetix World (Rose Art, 6 years & up, prices vary) This city building set has more than 100 pieces, including magnetic rods that snap together.
Pixel Chix (Mattel, 7 years & up, $29.99) As 2-D animated characters appear on screen inside their own 3-D houses, the Pixel Chix can play different games, change fashions, and more.
Shell Shocker (Tyco, 8 years & up, $79.99) This high-powered vehicle can morph into a "cyberball" or a "cyberbeast" on the fly.
Vcam Now (Hasbro, 8 years & up, $79.99) Make movies and take pictures with this versatile and very real video camera. Record up to seven minutes of video or take as many as 480 still pictures - or more, since its memory is expandable.
V.Smile Pocket (VTech, 5 years & up, system $89.99, games $19.99) This is a hand-held version of the V.Smile video-game learning toy that kids can take with them or connect to a TV for on-screen play.