Virtual toys next big thing at NY toy fair

As kids demand more high-tech and advanced toys than ever before, toy makers are going virtual. That’s the gist of the ongoing American International Toy Fair in New York, where toy makers are eager to cash in on the trend for kids as young as two to be sitting in front of computers playing interactive games.

Technology is playing a larger role in toy designs today. The creation of virtual worlds where children can dress dolls, take care of virtual pets and race cars - among other activities - is becoming more commonplace.

There are web-enabled toys that plug in to your computer using USB to make them virtual. Barbie, for example, is being refreshed for the virtual world and now features a CD-ROM game where she can be dressed up in hundreds of outfits, take part in fashion shows and star in magazines. There’s also, run by toy firm Mattel; a social networking website for 10 and 11-year-olds.

Cyber playground

Boys have the option of the customisable Hot Wheels Turbo Driver, a game controller that opens up eight different terrains online for car racing. There’s also Neopets, made by Jakks - a furry toy which can be bought, fed and clothed in its own cyber playground - which has some 44 million registered users.

Other pet offerings included Biscuit, a life-like toy golden retriever by Hasbro. It looks and feels like a real dog and even responds to commands.

"It's like having a real golden retriever," Jim Silver, publisher of Toy Wishes Magazine, told Reuters. "The movement is life-like... It's really scary that these items are becoming so... real."

Damage-proof camera

Among other highlights at the annual US toy fair was Fisher-Price’s Kid-Tough digital camera, built to sustain any damage that a four-year-old could possibly incur. It’s water resistant, features a 1.3-megapixel sensor and 64MB of storage.

And toy firm Leapfrog launched a digital version of the old cue cards often used for exam revision. The Leapfrog Crammer Study and Sound System lets you create digital flashcards which are customisable to the relevant subject. There are also study aids with a built-in MP3 player so that you can learn while listening to tunes. It costs $60, has 1GB memory and a 2.5-inch screen.

Life-sized Lego

More old-school toys on show included Lego, which showed off life-sized Lego versions of legendary movie characters such as Indiana Jones, C3PO and a Clone Wars Trooper.

"We're just probably going to see examples in every showroom of toys that work with the internet across all kinds of properties," Anita Frazier, an analyst with market research firm NPD Group, told Reuters.

"Kids are spending a lot of their time on computers and involved with the internet. So I think we're going to see toy manufacturers capitalise on that trend," Frazier predicted.