Prepare to hand over your iPad - it's going to be an app-y Christmas
Manufacturers are targeting tech-savvy youngsters who play games on their parents' tablets, writes Lewis Smith
Toys that connect to iPads are being tipped as one of the "must have" gifts for children this Christmas as studies show rocketing numbers play games on their parents' tablets.
After a dramatic rise in sales of tablets for children last year, makers are intent on going a step further by offering toys that can be used with iPads.
The toys, such as a car or an action figure, are placed on the tablet's screen and interact with an app.
In Britain, more than 2.8 million people own an iPad, and many belong to parents who are willing to hand over their devices to their offspring.
Recent research in the UK and the United States found 39 per cent of adults who own an iPad have downloaded an app for children aged six to 11. Another study said parents download an average of 6.8 apps for children aged three to eight every three months.
Toys that connect to tablets are now tipped to be one of the top 10 Christmas toys this year. Among them are toymaker Mattel's Apptivities – which link up to iPads – but at least three other companies have their own versions.
Samantha Loveday, editor of Toy News, said: "Christmas is obviously the toy industry's most important part of the year. There are a lot of good toys coming out, but I think Apptivity toys have the potential to be up there. It's very 'of the moment'."
She said the toy industry had a long track record of recognising trends within the adult world and incorporating them into children's play: "They have been looking at the rise of digital and are very good at working that new kind of technology into their toys.
"We've started to see it come on over the last 12 to 18 months. It started with kids' tablets such as LeapPad by LeapFrog and Inno Tab from Vtech. They were a phenomenal success.
"The toy industry recognises that kids do play with their parents' technology, like iPhones and the iPad. The idea is the kids want to be like their parents. The Apptivity is part of that. It's another sector we've started to see grow over the last 12 to 18 months."
Andrea Abbis, toys and nursery trading manager for Argos, the UK's largest toy retailer, also expected them to be a success.
"Toys which incorporate technology have already proved very popular with our customers and we expect them to be a big hit for Christmas," she said.
Dr Amanda Gummer, a psychologist specialising in play and parenting, said: "Today's children are growing up with technology and expect it in many of their playthings. Combining a physical toy with the excitement of an app and the contemporary appeal of an iPad is a completely new way for kids to play."
Screen test proves a winner, if a little pricey
Lewis Smith gets the thumbs up as he road tests two 'apptivities' with his children
"I did it! I did it! I did it!"
This, from a four-year-old, combined with the discovery two hours later that he was still fascinated with the Hot Wheels Apptivity, suggests there is something in the toy that clicks with children.
Between them, my four and 14-year-old children, Tolly and Willow, spent more time playing with two Mattel Apptivities than I feel comfortable admitting on a day when the sun was blazing and they really ought to have still been outside.
Earlier, earning instant popularity, I had handed over a Hot Wheels and an Angry Birds Apptivity to Willow with instructions to make sure she knew how to work them before letting her little brother in on the treat.
Hot Wheels wasn't glitch free. It took a while to work out why certain things were happening on screen and what to do about them but once, as she put it, she'd "got to grips with the navigation" while holding the toy car to the screen, she sat back happily to concentrate on beating her best lap times and exploring other aspects of the game – including shooting up evil robotic cars.
The Hot Wheels car by itself delighted Tolly and the discovery that it connected to the iPad meant it was elevated to "most-prized toy" status and was taken with him everywhere he went for the rest of the day.
The "I did it!" moment confirmed that he, too, had mastered the controls and was succeeding in getting round the courses. The Hot Wheels Apptivity was a big hit.
By contrast the apptivity from Angry Birds, below, lacked the physical success of "driving" the car during races. The "King Pig" toy is used to touch the screen to alter the next challenge but that's it.
The additions to the original game are – to Angry Birds fans at least – entertaining and worthwhile but, my daughter observed, it's nothing the app couldn't achieve itself.
The makers of Angry Birds do, after all, create frequent extra levels for their games so the Apptivity toy seems superfluous, though my son insisted on having a go – "I wanna do it!" – and my daughter laid firm claim to the plastic King Pig.
Each of the Apptivities costs £11.99 (and there are larger £24.99 sets too).
It is supposed to be me who is appalled by prices in this day and age but for once it was my daughter who was shocked at the cost. It's within pocket money range but compared to the cost of apps themselves – usually less than £3 each – she thought it steep.
Her little brother, however, had no such complaints. He'd got a new car that could be played with on both the carpet and the iPad. And if Santa was to bring him one of the Batman Apptivities there would be no keeping the iPad away from him.
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