Re­sist­ing dig­i­tal

Old favourites fight rise of the tablet.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FAMILY - By ALFONS LUNA

THE big play­ers in the tra­di­tional toy mar­ket have come out fight­ing in Bri­tain as lit­tle fin­gers are in­creas­ingly oc­cu­pied by iPad-type de­vices at play­time.

Pre­vi­ously seen as the pre­serve of grownups, tablets are in­creas­ingly top of chil­dren’s wish­lists.

The best-sell­ing toy in Bri­tain last year was the Furby, the cud­dly ro­botic “pet” that has ir­ri­tated mil­lions of par­ents with its con­stant chat­ter.

But tablet com­put­ers, de­signed specif­i­cally for kids, came close be­hind, ac­cord­ing to the NPD mar­ket re­search group.

With tod­dlers fre­quently more nim­ble on touch­screens than their par­ents, ma­jor play­ers in­clud­ing Sam­sung are cash­ing in with tablets de­signed for the lu­cra­tive and tech­savvy youth mar­ket.

At this week’s Lon­don Toy Fair, man­u­fac­tur­ers of tra­di­tional toys in­sisted they face a bright fu­ture – but ad­mit­ted the rise of tablets means they’re in for a tough fight.

“We have to recog­nise th­ese days that there’s a place for tablets and tech­nol­ogy,” said Jamie Dick­in­son, mar­ket­ing man­ager at Play­mo­bil, the Ger­man-based brand that has pro­duced some 2.6 bil­lion plas­tic fig­ures since 1974.

“When chil­dren grow up and go into the adult world, they need to know how to use the tech­nol­ogy,” he said as he stood in front of a dis­play of Play­mo­bil fig­ures at Lon­don’s Olympia ex­hi­bi­tion cen­tre.

“But there are lots of other skills that they need to learn, which only tra­di­tional toys can give them.”

Play­mo­bil is re­sist­ing the dig­i­tal on­slaught, with its global sales in­creas­ing by 5.3% to 531 mil eu­ros (RM2425mil) last year.

In the United King­dom, the build­ing sets and ac­tion fig­ures mar­kets will en­joy a 10% jump in growth this year, NPD pre­dicts, partly thanks to toys linked to the World Cup in Brazil.

Tablets for two-year-olds

Many of the toy firms dis­play­ing their wares in Lon­don were count­ing on the sup­port of par­ents with an in­stinc­tive sus­pi­cion of the In­ter­net and, by ex­ten­sion, tablets.

Metal con­struc­tion kits by Mec­cano have been a boys’ favourite since they were in­vented in Eng­land in 1909 – and are “still very pop­u­lar, es­pe­cially in the eyes of par­ents, grand­par­ents and those who buy gifts,” said Kevin Jones, Euro­pean mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor for the brand’s owner Spin Mas­ter.

“The great thing about tra­di­tional toys is that they have longevity. It’s great value for par­ents,” he said.

Lego is another peren­nial favourite that has diver­si­fied its range, partly through movie tie-ins.

The Dan­ish firm saw a 13% in­crease in global rev­enue in 2013, al­though Asia ac­counted for much of the pos­i­tive fig­ures.

Roland Earl, di­rec­tor gen­eral of the Bri­tish Toy and Hobby As­so­ci­a­tion, played down the threat posed by tablets, ar­gu­ing that there is plenty of space in the play­room for a va­ri­ety of games.

“We’ve found that the tra­di­tional toy mar­ket has held up very well over the last ten years,” he said.

“In fact, we’ve posted growth in the UK in most years out of the last ten – and the com­puter game in­dus­try has ac­tu­ally suf­fered in the last year, pos­si­bly from less ex­pen­sive free games that are avail­able on the web.”

Tablets have a “nov­elty value” that may yet pass, he sug­gested.

Some par­ents may worry that hav­ing th­ese gad­gets at such an early age could cre­ate a dan­ger­ous ten­dency to­wards lethargy – but af­ter all, say man­u­fac­tur­ers, iPad-lov­ing adults are hardly set­ting a good ex­am­ple.

French maker Lex­i­book said it now makes tablets aimed at users as young as two.

“They want to copy their par­ents and use a tablet them­selves,” said Lex­i­book CEO Em­manuel Le Cot­tier.

“So we’ve cre­ated a range of tablets go­ing from two to 14 years old, with ded­i­cated con­tent for each tar­get age group.”

He added that Lex­i­book’s kids’ tablets – like many of their ri­vals – come with parental con­trol fea­tures, in­clud­ing the abil­ity to set a daily time limit on their us­age.

Nine-year-old Em­i­lie Brun said she prefers play­ing with her par­ents’ tablet to tra­di­tional toys – but she’s usu­ally ready to move on to some­thing else af­ter a cou­ple of games.

“There’s loads of in­ter­est­ing games on the tablet to play when I’m bored in my room,” she told AFP.

“But I’m also happy to play ‘teach­ers’ with my sis­ter.” – AFP

In praise of tech­nol­ogy: alexan­dra de­lage from Lex­i­book holds a tablet, con­nected wire­lessly to a mini cam­era at­tached to a hel­met, dur­ing the Toy Fair at Olympia ex­hi­bi­tion cen­tre in Lon­don. — aFP

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