By Leslie Birdwell
Mom uses her Blackberry, Dad has a portable DVD player and everyone’s walking around and talking on the phone. Naturally, kids want their very own electronic gizmos that really work. Maybe it’s time to say goodbye to the toy tea set and the toy workbench — and say hello to the juvenilization of consumer products.
What drives this trend? It’s really pretty simple. Consider that much of children’s play is imitative, says Sean McGowan, a toy industry analyst with Harris Nesbitt. Children play what they see.
So, to respond to modern play patterns, manufacturers have created a bright array of glittery, smooth, stepped-down “toys” for today’s kids, a trend probably enhanced by the ever smaller nature of electronic components and a perpetually competitive market for the next biggest — or next smallest — thing.
“The kids are smart enough to know what’s good,” said McGowan.
Hasbro has entered the electronics market with its “Now” line which includes the ChatNow phone, the VideoNow XP Personal video player, the VCAMNOW Personal Video Recorder and the PLAYITNOW Personal Digital Music Recorder plus all the accessories. Some accessories enhance functionality, like the VIDEONOW Media Wizard software. The Fisher-Price subsidiary even has junior “Now” products.
Toys “R” Us carries Craig electronics for kids — pink or blue portable CD players, boom boxes, MP3 players and the Snap Mini Digital Camera. The latter is the size of a large pendant and can be kept on a chain around the neck.
At least three companies offer cell phones for younger kids: Firefly Mobile, Wherify’s Wherifone and Enfora’s TicTalk. The Firefly Mobile and the TicTalk share the same feature of heavy parental control. There’s no keypad for text messaging and parents can program the phones to approved phone numbers and to reject unknowns. The Wherifone is unique in that it has GPS technology so parents can track their children when they’re not at home. They are all very smooth, round phones that fit nicely into a kid’s hand
McGowan says the peril he sees ahead for toy companies is the very competitive nature of consumer electronics, which he calls “the most competitive market on the planet.” Why should parents spend $89.99 on a pink Teen Tech portable DVD player at Toys “R” Us when they can get a consumer-grade product with all the bells and whistles at Best Buy for $119.99?
The electronics stores, suggests McGowan, might become the new toy stores. Prices will go down and functionality will become more affordable. It’s a weird trend, adds McGowan, as toy companies try to compete with electronics companies.