Mechanical Marvels – electronic toys

Mechanical Marvels – electronic toys – Brief Article

Deborah Belgum

The next generation of electronic toys comes in all shapes and sizes, but the price tags are seldom very small

REMEMBER the days when a kid was satisfied with a pack of crayons and a jar of Play-Doh for the holidays?

Well, tuck those holiday memories away and get with the new millennium.

The toys to have this year are electronic toys or e-toys. And they do incredible things. Some have incredible price tags.

Take, for example, Rocket, the electronic Wonder Dog, manufactured by Fisher-Price and out on the market since October. This $105 doggie is much like Sony’s Aibo, a robotic pet dog that has its own emotions, instincts and personality. Aibo plays games like “fetch” and walks on four legs like a real dog or cat.

But Aibo costs a frighteningly expensive $1,200 and is only on the wish list of the very wealthy or very optimistic.

In contrast, Rocket carries a relatively modest $105 price tag. Rockie, as he is affectionately known, can perform a variety of tricks and can be trained to respond to your child’s voice. The toy even comes with a wireless headset that allows your kids to communicate with the digital dog.

Rocket and his electronic brethren represent a departure from last year’s Christmas toy trend, which consisted primarily of anything related to Furby or Pokemon. Stores were stacked to the gills with Pokemon trading cards, Pokemon computer games, Pokemon dolls and Pokemon T-shirts. But Pokemon paraphernalia is gathering dust in kids’ closets this year.

In 1998, the rage was Teletubbies, and the year before that it was Tickle Me, Elmo dolls. All those toys seem simplistic compared to Aibo and Rocket.

While this year has no real dominant toy, except for perhaps the low-tech scooter, toy shelves are stocked with sophisticated playthings that are becoming more affordable as the technology is perfected and production costs come down. Instead of a month’s salary, they’ll only set you back a candlelit dinner or two.

“Certainly there are more and more toys being produced that have electronics in them,” said John Reilly, a spokesman for Kay-Bee Toys, the second-largest toy store chain in the country, with more than 1,350 locations. “And certainly children are more technologically adept at a younger age. You have 4- and 5-year-olds playing on computers.”

Computer-savvy children have no problem programming these technological toys, which is probably why Poo-Chi, an electronic dog made by Hasbro’s Tiger Electronics and selling for $30, is moving well at Kay-Bee Toys and other such stores.

Poo-Chi was the No. 3 best-selling toy in September, according to Toy Manufacturers of America Inc., a trade organization based in New York, followed by Tekno, another robotic dog, which was No. 5 on the best-selling list.

Poo-Chi dogs sing six different songs, play games and have moving heads, ears, legs, mouths and tails. They can stand, sit or dance on their tiptoes.

And, best of all, they can communicate with each other. If two Poo-Chis like each other, they will sing a duet. If they don’t, they’ll growl.

“Poo-Chi and Tekno are going to be two of the biggest sellers for the holiday,” said Diane Cardinale, a spokeswoman for Toy Manufacturers of America. “Robotic dogs are a natural extension of the whole micro-processing technology, going from stuffed toys to dolls to state-of-the-art robotics.”

That trend was apparent at a local Toys R Us store last week, where 6-year-old Alma Gonzales was eyeing a display of Dalmatian-like Tekno dogs, made by Manley Toy Quest. One of her neighbors got a $40 Tekno dog, which can be programmed to respond like an 8-week-old puppy, for her birthday. Alma would like one too.

“We can’t have a dog at our apartment,” said Alma’s mother, Maria Gonzales. “So we’ll see what Santa Claus can do.”

Among the other hot toy picks this holiday season are Amazing Babies by Playmates. These electronic dolls learn new words and chat with other Amazing Babies.

Then there is Hasbro’s Tucker the Interactive Truck, which not only scoops and dumps dirt, but also says 45 different phrases. When you put Tucker down, he asks: “Don’t you want to play anymore?”

For ages 2 and up, there is Cybiko, a wireless entertainment system that lets kids send e-mail anywhere, anytime.

For hip kids there are Hit Clips, an $8 clip that attaches to purses or backpacks and plays 60-second music snippets that sell for $5 each.

In the end, said Maria Weiskott, editor of Playthings, a toy industry magazine, the winning toy will be the one that captures kids’ imaginations.

“The toy that keeps you playing the longest, instead of just for a few days, will be the one that is the most successful,” she said.

Now if they could only program those robotic dogs to fetch your morning newspaper.


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