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Hong Kong economy

Robots and virtual reality steal the show at Asia’s biggest toy fair in Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s toy industry regained momentum last year after a lacklustre 2016

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 January, 2018, 7:33pm
UPDATED : Monday, 08 January, 2018, 10:05pm

Robots and virtual reality (VR) were hot at Asia’s largest toy fair, which kicked off in Hong Kong on Monday, with toymakers and buyers optimistic about the year ahead.

New technologies stole the show at the 44th annual Toy and Games Fair, the world’s second largest toy show, which brought together 2,100 exhibitors from 45 countries at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.

As the market in 2017 recouped losses from the previous year, toymakers had to keep innovating to stay on top of the changing tastes of increasingly tech-savvy consumers.

Hi-tech toys take the spotlight in Hong Kong as makers seek to overcome sales decline

“The whole market was looking for new products last year, products that were technologically innovative,” said Stanley Chan, marketing manager of Solar Tune Enterprise Ltd, a Hong Kong-based toymaker founded in 1994.

“Drones were dominating the market a few years back, but people got tired of them last year.”

That is why Chan’s company launched robot toys for the first time this year, he said, on top of the electronic games and gadgets they used to design.

Hong Kong toymakers hope Asia’s largest toy fair will help boost flagging sales

The robots, named STone 8 Robotics Toys and about 12cm tall, have a round body and two big, flashy LED eyes. They are like the digital pets popular in the 1990s in physical form. Designed for children aged from six to 12, the robots, with sensors all over their bodies, can be petted, stroked, held and fed.

They can also dance to music and fight with each other.

Drones were dominating the market a few years back, but people got tired of them last year
Stanley Chan, marketing manager of Solar Tune Enterprise

Chan said the company, which exported all its products to Europe and the US, benefited from the improved economic performance in the two markets last year, and the momentum was likely to hold up in 2018.

Hong Kong’s toy industry regained momentum last year after a lacklustre 2016. The city’s toy exports were up 32 per cent year on year at HK$44 billion for the first 11 months of 2017, compared with a 24 per cent decline in the same period in 2016.

“Hong Kong’s toys and games industry will continue to achieve steady growth brought by the technological advancement of electronic games,” said Benjamin Chau, the acting executive director of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, the organiser of the four-day fair and the city’s statutory body promoting trade.

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A robot maker from across the border in mainland China bet on the growing interest of adults. Founded in 2015, Shenzhen firm GJS Ltd makes combat robots that can be controlled through mobile apps. The robots carry cameras and sensors to decide players’ scores in battles.

“We think toys are not just for children,” said Robert Lou, the firm’s chief marketing officer.

“The adult segment accounts for 40 per cent of the toy market in the US and 60 per cent in Japan, but only 1 per cent in China now.”

Kenes Cheung, co-founder of Playable Creation Ltd, a toy company that combines AR and VR technologies in games, was also hopeful over the market for toys with new technologies. AR uses computer-generated enhancements atop reality to allow interactions while VR creates an artificial situation based on a real-life environment.

“AR and VR technologies are pretty mature now, and they will start to become part of our daily life,” Cheung said.

Just one month into the launch of its new toy arrow, which comes with an AR mobile game, sales already topped 1,000 units. In 2017, they sold more than 200,000 AR toy pistols.

“We are optimistic this year,” Cheung said.

The fair attracted more than 9,000 buyers from 65 countries, including retail chains Toys ‘R’ Us and Britain’s Hamleys, and online retailers and Walmart E-commerce from mainland China.

“Our demand stayed pretty steady last year, and is expected to improve this year,” said Peter O’Brien, director of an Australian importer, New Dimension Oz.