HONG KONG: SMART technology has invaded the global toy kingdom, transporting kids into a dream world of virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR), far, far away from the days of inflexible plastic dolls and string-pulled sardine tin-can trucks.
Today, high-tech toys and games previously unimaginable are realities within reach by a touch of a button in what has become a $100 billion industry — from remote-controlled dolls and drones to a wide array of playthings operated by Android or iOS devices.
At the just concluded 44th edition of the Hong Kong Toys & Games Fair organized by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), thousands of international exhibitors showcased more of such technology-driven innovations for children’s entertainment and development.
PT Octagon Studio Indonesia, for instance, launched at the fair the Humanoid 4D+ Augmented Reality Kit – an AR application designed to provide color and interactive depiction of the human body. It helps children understand better the structure of the human body and how the different body systems work.
The Toys & Games Fair was held simultaneously with the Hong Kong Baby Products Fair, the Hong Kong International Stationery Fair, and a related Hong Kong International Licensing Show, all organized by the HKTDC, drawing nearly 3,000 exhibitors from around the world.
The exhibits clearly reflected the rapid evolution of market demand from the baby boomers to millennials, and to what is now called Generation Z, whose needs and attitudes dictate the current trends delivered by smart technology.
“Technology creates new marvels every day, and the integration of electronics in toys is the industry’s dominant trend,” the HKTDC said at the opening of what it described as the biggest toys and games trade fair in Asia and the second largest in the world.
“In a tech-savvy era, a lot of the toy companies continue to be innovative by incorporating up-to-date technologies into the latest toy products. In particular, there is a surge in augmented reality toys that bring users unusual gaming experience,” it added.
Going forward, it predicted, “Virtual, augmented and mixed reality products will continue to be big hits that will help the industry evolve for years to come.”
Shape of things to come
One of the exhibitors, Playable Creation Ltd., also introduced to the market its “ARcher-The Hunter,” an AR gaming embedded in a bow-shaped toy. This mobile app may be downloaded from a smartphone and placed on the bow, so that “the player can turn around with the toy to explore the realistic game environment brought about by AR technology,” said the company in the statement released by HKTDC. By pulling strings from the arrow, the player can take the challenge to play at different levels of the game.
Besides sports-oriented AR-embedded toys, the concurrent trade fairs highlighted the growing advocacy of STREAM (Science, Technology, Robotics, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) in toy-making. The HKTDC said the emphasis on the STREAM advocacy has driven the widening patronage for educational toys among children and their parents.
Another smart-tech toy featured at the fair was the “AR Fashion Designer,” brought in by Joy Aether Ltd. from Hong Kong. “Users can design dresses on drawing sheets provided and transform them from 2D format to 3D versions with the mobile application,” its creator said. In the application, users can dress models with their designs and share them on social media. With just imaginary power and without requiring professional skills, users can experience being designers themselves with this game. “Toys of many categories, e.g. dolls, stuffed toys, can join the AR Fashion Designer platform to add infinite possibilities to those toys,” it added.
Increasingly, trends in toy-making are also definitely reflecting the continuing evolution of technology that helps humans cope with, if not beat, the stress of real daily living.
Global toys expert Richard Gottlieb cites leading car brands developing self-driving cars, for instance, as potential trend influencers in the play-and-toy-making business.
Driverless cars with passenger seats facing one another are already making family travel as comfortable as hanging out in the family room. This could create demand for play activities while on the road, such as kids’ crafts or jigsaw puzzles, said Gottlieb in a presentation at a trade fair conference on the subject “Evolving with the Industry: Hot Trends in the Toys Industry.”
Gottlieb, who is chief executive officer of Global Toy Experts and publisher of Global Toys News, expects to see smart toy companies injecting more of that reality into toy cars. “Smart toy companies are going to seek out partnerships with such car companies.”
A separate Times research finds Volvo, Tesla and BMW as among the high-end car manufacturers now building their future manufacturing strategy around driverless cars, which they see shaping the future of driving. Other major car manufacturers from Mazda to Maserati are also investing in R&D to design their own self-driving cars.
Moreover, the speed of globalization has begun setting the pace for the delivery of toy products to the market.
“Our sense of time has collapsed,” Gottlieb said, explaining that everything now seems to move faster as an effect of globalization. “Now Amazon offers 24-hour delivery of the products advertised on its website. So, what does that mean for us (in the toy business, in terms of the delivery of our products to the market)?” he posed the question to challenge toy manufacturers present among the audience.
In a succeeding product demonstration, baby products manufacturer Zhejiang Ganen Technology Co., Ltd. said it can deliver the goods within the 24-hour timeframe challenge.
Marketers in the business aim their strategies at the Gen Zers, who rule the trend in the toys-and-games industry of today. Gottlieb describes this segment as kids 18 years old and below, a multiracial, multicultural bunch carrying multiscreen phones (at least five screens), with short attention spans.
“They don’t think in terms of genders. They want to be experts in what they do. I think in terms of what it means for the toy industry,” Gottlieb said, and concluded: “we might need to think of micro-marketing when dealing with them.”
That means catering to their needs at different individual levels, and could involve selling lower-priced products, or offering toys that provide new knowledge, or first-time discoveries in 4D as the vapid reality of 3D no longer satisfies their creative vision.
For innovators, investors and manufacturers, this kid stuff spells big bucks. Trade fair organizers estimate the current global toys and games market at between $90 billion and $100 billion.
The chief executive of international trade exhibit organizer, Spielwarenmesse eG, Ernst Kick, envisions further growth for the global toy business in the years ahead after it expanded by 3 percent in 2017. He declined to make a specific forecast growth figure for 2018 pending the release of complete sales data from last year, as usually provided by Euromonitor International, the world’s most comprehensive market research on consumer products, commercial industries, demographic trends and consumer lifestyles.
According to Euromonitor, toys and games sales rebounded in 2016 as recovering emerging markets, surging games and puzzles sales, and new VR introductions propelled the industry forward.
“Traditional toys saw major changes as games and puzzles became the fastest growing category, overtaking construction, due to interest from adults. Virtual reality entered the consumer market in full force in 2016 with several premium headsets, and in 2017 the VR market looks to move beyond the enthusiast market into the mainstream,” it said in a report published on its website.
Kick noted the Asian market particularly offers good reason for optimism, especially in the transition of demand from simple plastic to electronic toys, while Europe and the US are now very mature markets.
“We organize our activities for the exhibitors in the segment that’s related to the electronic market, which is very much growing,” he told The Manila Times in a brief interview on the sidelines of the product launches at the trade fairs.
Kick believes electronic toys will evolve further to keep changing the landscape of the world of play, not just for kids but for adults as well.
“Electronic toys will continue to reflect the picture of real life,” he said. “I’m very much optimistic that play will always be a part of life, for kids and adults alike.”
“There will always be a market for toys,” he concluded.