Technology is at its best when applied in innovative and elegant ways, and the toy market is no exception. Click through to see three products with the potential to ignite young imaginations.
Boogie Board / Boogie Board Rip
A minimum $500 price tag can make any parent apprehensive to hand their kid an iPad. Improv Electronics makes a tablet, however, that starts at just $39.95. The Boogie Board won't surf the web or fling birds at pigs - it's a fun, low-cost LCD drawing tablet that looks and feels like a grown-up Magna Doodle. The pressure-sensitive screen clears at the push of a button, making way for the next masterpiece. The device is good for about 50,000 erase cycles - that's when the Improv Electornics says the sealed-in battery will finally deplete.
The company's higher-end tablet, the Boogie Board Rip, adds the ability to save drawings to the tablet's memory. The PDF vector images may then be transferred to a computer over USB, which also recharges the device. Though Improv Electronics primarily markets Boogie Board tablets towards note-taking adults, their appeal to a young audience is undeniable.
This product is not a "tech toy" in the traditional sense - there are no motors, sensors, or chips to be found. I chose LINX because of its ability to encourage creative, innovative, and geometric thinking. This Kickstarter project by visual artist Patrick Martinez offers a simple, inexpensive toy for kids who love to build - a handful of small plastic joints that connect standard drinking straws to construct amazing structures.
I like that these joints do not form right angles, but rather produce little three dimensional asterisks when combined. LINX joints are lightweight and inexpensive, and their resulting structures are infinite in potential. Unfortunately, the project is not yet fully funded. Patrick is nearly halfway there, but needs a big push to meet his March 4 deadline. Just $25 gets you 180 LINX connectors and straws, shipped for free.
When I first saw LINX, my mind was immediately transported back to my childhood bedroom, cluttered with LEGO bricks, Lincoln Logs, and Erector Set beams. Even if Patrick doesn't reach his Kickstarter goal, I hope he finds a way to bring his product to market - perhaps with the help of Tom Gerhardt (of Studio Neat, the company behind the Glif), who is advising on this project.
TheO, shipping in May of this year, is the perfect example of enhancing simple objects with powerful technology. This simple foam ball has a hole carved out from one side, enabling a smartphone to slide in and lock in place. The basic toy is suddenly transformed into a motion-sensing wireless computer that can safely bounce around the room for all sorts of games. Physical Apps, the makers of TheO, include three apps with the $24.95 purchase price, and will soon release the tools necessary for other developers to build games for the toy. They made quite a splash when they showed TheO at Toy Fair 2012, and for good reason. Like many, I'm struck by the simplicity of this concept, which imbues an everyday item with advanced technology and newfound fun at a minimal cost.