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Start of the toy fair: Smart toys, stupid toys


Ten years ago, the Nuremberg toy fair was all about iToys and Toys 3.0. »MetaToys« is now the new marketing buzzword. But why are most technology toys still unspectacular?

The toy fair starts in Nuremberg today, Wednesday.

While industry professionals from all over the world network there, we and many other media will again be showing you cute-looking innovations such as the Dog-E robot dog seen here (not to be confused with the NRW police robot dogs that I recently visited).

But I want to be honest: As a tech nerd, it regularly disappoints me how stupid or crappy supposedly smart toys still are.

I already reported on the Spielwarenmesse in 2013: Back then I was writing about buzzwords like Toys 3.0 and iToys, which promised a tech revolution in children's rooms.

Not much came of it, which is why I can only smile wearily at one of the 2023 trade fair buzzwords: MetaToys, seriously?

As a crude nod to topics like the metaverse, blockchain technology, and NFTs?

Is that really the next logical step?

Of course, unlike in 2013, today even the surprise egg has an app component and there are networked audio gadgets such as the Toniebox in many children's rooms.

And yes, there have been highly acclaimed products like the Skylanders that brought physical game characters together with video game worlds.

In the meantime, however, most of them are gone again.

And the most obvious smart toy vision - the clever-looking, conversational cuddly toy - is still waiting for a convincing implementation for the mass market.

Even the »Hello Barbie«, which caused a great stir in 2015 as a doll with a microphone, is no longer produced.

Instead, many children are now talking to ugly Alexa gadgets that are actually intended for online shopping.

Or they have to make do with robotic cats that act

I spoke to consultant Steve Reece about why tech toys are so often disappointing.

The Briton has been working in the toy industry since 1998. He will be speaking in Nuremberg on Thursday about the »future of toys«.

Reece has several explanations for my gut feeling that progress is slow, but one of the most important is the price.

"Of course, the technology that's in your smartphone could also be built into a toy," he says.

"But nobody wants to spend 1,000 euros on a toy." Even 50 or even just under 100 euros are ambitious prices in the field of tech toys.

This is one of the reasons why toys tend to still contain »yesterday's technology«.

Reece also points out that many children today have hundreds of toys at home.

This makes parents skeptical that their child will really spend a lot of time with any novelty.

Which in turn makes it difficult for manufacturers to sell high-priced products in large quantities.

When in doubt, it sounds like most parents tend to reach for simpler, cheaper toys, which, according to Reece, are still responsible for the lion's share of industry sales.

He estimates that 85 to 90 percent of all toys are still largely technology-free.

Especially since modern technology alone does not guarantee success: the younger the children are, the more important the tactile experience is, says Reece, i.e. whether a toy feels interesting.

For this reason, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) cannot replace traditional toys in the foreseeable future.

Basically, Reece sees an improvement in the Techtoys.

On the one hand, he believes that people are increasingly willing to spend more money than they used to for high-end toys - a development that is also related to the fact that more and more adults are buying their own toys, such as expensive Lego sets.

On the other hand, Reece sees real technological advances.

"Speech recognition works now," he gives an example.

"It just wasn't good enough before." Much of what companies tried to implement ten years ago is now possible, says Reece, who also keeps a close eye on AI tools like ChatGPT.

However, one should not count on the fact that soon every teddy bear will have ChatGPT on board.

"The toy industry is very good at bringing advanced technology that is very expensive elsewhere into a simpler form that allows for low prices," says Reece.

However, it will always lag behind the latest technologies from corporations such as Microsoft or Apple.

Our current Netzwelt reading tips for

  • "The machine operates completely free of ideas like true or false" (eight minutes of reading)

    What can ChatGPT do and what not?

    In an interview with my colleague Hilmar Schmundt, researcher Katharina Zweig explains how the world's currently most popular AI system works and how it can be useful in everyday life.

  • "Rather Sony's expensive noble pad - or three to four normal ones?" 

    (six minutes of reading)

    Sony's DualSense controller for the Playstation 5 now has a sister model with more buttons and functions.

    I tested the high-end pad and was quite impressed - except for the price.

  • »My paradise, which was doomed« (six minutes of reading)

    The game retailer GameStop will soon be closing dozens of branches in Germany.

    Our author Christian Neeb used to work for the US chain - and in this very personal article looks back on his dream job.

External links: Three tips from other media

  • »On Trump's Social Network: Ads for Miracle Cures, Scams and Fake Merchandise« (six minutes of reading)

    What kind of companies actually advertise on Truth Social?

    The "New York Times" has evaluated hundreds of ads from Donald Trump's social network - and in its article also shows what the advertising looks like there.

  • »Dutch people mock Aldi's supermarket of the future« (four minutes of reading)

    Aldi is trying to emulate Amazon and is testing a supermarket in Utrecht that can do without checkouts.

    But the Dutch are ignoring the shop, as Christoph Kapalschinski reports in the »Welt«.

  • "The unofficial GBA pixel book" (excerpt from book)

    Robert Bannert is a retrogaming expert; he has already created print monuments weighing more than a kilo and quite visually powerful to the SNES and Mega-Drive eras.

    Now he's collecting pre-orders for the next "pixel book" on the Game Boy Advance (GBA) theme.

    Free reading samples for all three works can be found on the project website.

Have a good rest of the week

Markus Böhm, Network World department

Source: spiegel

All tech articles on 2023-02-01

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