New technology becomes child's play

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 January, 2007, 12:00am

The trend this year is towards interactive games and educational toys with many features that keep children interested for longer

CHILDREN IN THE 1970s played with dolls, drums and plastic telescopes. Now they play with interactive dolls, virtual drums and digital telescopes, in addition to computer games.

Toys of all types will be on show from next Monday to Thursday at the Hong Kong Toys & Games Fair at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Concurrent with this event is the Hong Kong International Stationery Fair, which will be held at the same place. Having the two shows together is a strategic move by the organisers, as toys and stationery offer good synergy.

These annual shows are good indicators of product trends. This year, exhibitors at the toy fair will show how traditional toys have evolved into whole new experiences for children through the use of new technologies.

Gone are the days when people settled for cheap and mundane toys. Computer games now rule the world of children.

'One disadvantage of traditional toys is that children can easily master them and lose interest very soon,' Young Hay, chief executive and creative director of TikTokTech, said.

'Computer games allow children to have new experiences every day. When children master one skill, the games develop and teach them another. They retain the interest of kids, thus lengthening the game's lifespan and strengthening [children's] educational values,' he said.

But many are concerned with children spending too much time in the virtual world, neglecting their physical development. Traditional toys offer something which computer games do not - touch.

According to some educators, volume, weight and texture of traditional toys are important for brain development.

TikTokTech combines the best of both worlds in its products, with traditional toys - real objects - and physical movements interacting with the virtual simulations.

One of the company's latest products is the Moving Music game. Children wave their hands and shake their bodies in front of a webcam and the computer creates different tones and rhythms according to the direction and speed of the movements, and players can compose their own songs with this program.

The game has many other features to teach children more about music and allow them to develop their creativity.

One major advantage of these new games is the use of a webcam as the input interface instead of a mouse and keyboard.

'The mouse and keyboard are task-orientated input devices, but the new interface is a user-orientated one,' Mr Young said. 'You don't have to learn how to use it and anyone can pick it up in no time.'

Moving Music has won the Hong Kong ICT Awards 2006: Digital Entertainment Grand Award. It has been developed into one of TikTokTech's TV Plug and Play game series which will be launched at the fair.

'Education is not one product but a continuous process,' Mr Young said.

'We have a clear road map in developing products to guide children through different stages of their development. We make games that permeate education into play. Children can have fun playing the games and learn without feeling like someone is forcing knowledge on them.'

Mr Young, a father of two, said his sons were his source of inspiration. From them, he learns how children see things differently from adults and how children these days accept different modes of learning than children did in the past.

Salley Sze, vice-president and general manager of Eastcolight, said that expectations about toys had changed. In the past, parents bought toys for children as a diversion tactic so that they could get on with their own business, but now parents wanted toys with educational value. They also expected better quality.

'When we were children, we learned what adults told us. Education back then was unidirectional,' she said. 'But children now like to explore the world themselves and construct their own knowledge base. Designs of toys have become more important.'

Based on that theory, Ms Sze's company has developed a science series which includes product lines such as Microscience (microscopes) and Telescience (telescopes).

Under these brand names, Eastcolight will showcase digital microscopes and digital telescopes that can be connected to computers through USB ports.

Children can examine the slides directly through the microscope or through the computer. They can save the pictures, type words or comments on them and e-mail them to friends.

'The new products, with the addition of computer elements, allow children to develop their creativity and imagination. They can easily share knowledge among peers,' Ms Sze said.

Exhibitor COG will present its science product range, Ein-O Science, at the fair.

The series encourages a hands-on approach to learning. The Ein-O Science kits provide children with experiment equipment that requires assembling electronic components or mixing chemicals. Children can look for information and quizzes on the Ein-O Science website.

Director James Lim said: 'We believe these products are important, as children are not only presented with entertaining toys, but learning tools that instil in them fascination and curiosity.

'Children learn about a wide range of educational principles through the kits and toys in the areas of science, history, geology, geography, and so on.'

Jacqi Chan, vice-president of research and development at exhibitor Blue Box, said people were more willing to spend money on sleek designs, brand prestige and product values.

Children had also become the decision makers in buying toys, Mr Chan said. Joint research by Blue Box and the University of Southern California found that many children in the United States received gift vouchers from family and friends, which they used to buy toys they wanted. Based on that finding, Mr Chan said his company had changed its marketing strategy.

'We need to have products that appeal to children, instead of parents. Children at age eight to 12 are attracted by new technologies, music and trendy products,' he said.

One of the results of such strategic change is B2, a brand developed by Blue Box a year ago that features 'technotainment' toys. From this brand name, the company will exhibit the Mi Jam series, which consists of four products: guitar, mixer, stage microphone and drum.

All of them can be plugged into iPods. Children can jam with any songs on their iPods, save the remixes on computer and share their works with friends.

Mr Chan said designers had to understand the cultural change of the target market to create good designs.

Some 30,000 buyers from around the world visited the Toys & Games Fair last year while 14,726 were received at the Stationery Fair, making it an important double bill for the industries.

Besides traditional stationery items, there will also be computer consumables and licensed products.

Many networking activities and seminars will be held during the fairs' four-day run.

Key facts

Hong Kong Toys & Games Fair 2007

Dates January 8-11, 2007

Opening hours 9.30am-6.30pm (January 8-10), 9.30am-5pm (January 11)

Venue Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre

Admission HK$100, visitors under 18 will not be admitted

Major exhibit categories Baby toys and products, battery-operated and electronic toys, candy toys, die cast mechanical toys and action figures, educational toys and games, hobby goods, magic items, outdoor and sporting items, paper toys, party items, toy parts and accessories, soft toys and dolls

Organiser Hong Kong Trade Development Council

No of exhibitors 1973

Hong Kong International Stationery Fair 2007

Dates January 8-11, 2007

Opening hours 9.30am-6.30pm (January 8-10), 9.30am-5pm (January 11)

Venue Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre

Admission Free admission, visitors under 18 will not be admitted

Major exhibit categories Artists' supplies and equipment, children's stationery and school supplies, educational systems, office supplies, paper and paper products, writing instruments

Organiser Hong Kong Trade Development Council and Messe Frankfurt (HK)

No of exhibitors 261