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Hi-Tech Takes The Spotlight At Nuremberg(HKTDC Enterprise, Vol 04,2007)

 

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Mark Tilden of WowWee Ltd, inventor of the RoboSapien robot launched in 2004

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My First Laptop by Hong Kong's VTech
Hi-tech toys stole the show at the recent International Toy Fair in Nuremberg, further emphasising the industry's current commitment to electronic innovation.

As befits one of the world's leading toy design and manufacturing centres, Hong Kong was at the forefront of the hi-tech revolution with numerous exciting offerings at the six-day event that closed on February 6.

For example, Tiki the Artist, from Hong Kong's TikTokTech Ltd, was crafted to inspire the creativity of children aged 3-8 years old by letting them interact with TV game characters through advanced video-tracking technology.

The plug n' play TV game, which includes eight interactive art and music games, will be available from September 2007 at around e70 retail, CEO Hay Young revealed.

He believes Hong Kong toy manufacturers have a key advantage compared to competitors such as the Chinese mainland players. "It's the flexibility to react to technology development and marketing activities," Young maintained. "Being close to the Chinese mainland allows us to offer good and advanced products at reasonable prices."

Similarly, long-established Hong Kong firm Oregon Scientific unveiled a camera for children nine years old and up that weighs only 125 grams and can be easily fixed to bicycle handlebars or helmets.

The shock- and water-resistant Action Cam ATC 2000, which boasts a one-hour recording time and video-clip exchange via AV and USB ports, will cost approximately e130, including VAT.

Further underlining Hong Kong's advantages was Mark Tilden of WowWee Ltd, inventor of the phenomenally successful RoboSapien robot launched in 2004.

"Over the past four years, it's been the idea of not creating a conventional, serious robot but in creating characters with their own personality, at a good price," Tilden claimed. "Via different production techniques, WowWee is producing at 1/10th of regular production costs."

WowWee has already won several awards for its high-quality Robo range of robot toys, and has several more potential big sellers in the pipeline. "The RS Panda is a cutie, a soft and light super toy for pre-schoolers retailing at US$200," Tilden observed.

Also developed in Hong Kong, the UFO-Scooter for children aged between two and four is being distributed by the Swiss company Joker AG.

Secure, despite its sporty, speedy look, the UFO-Scooter starts smoothly, allows movement forward and back and can also turn 360 degrees on all kinds of floors.

The big rubber bumper protects furniture, while music and light features amplify the fun factor of a product that will sell for around e90 when it becomes available in August 2007.

Another Joker AG-distributed product that caused a stir at Nuremberg was a small, sweet and charming dinosaur called PLEO that consists of 2,000 single pieces, 14 single engines and 38 sensors.

The ultra hi-tech creation has smooth skin; can see, hear, feel and dream; functions without radio control and even charges his batteries while sleeping.

PLEO is a great learning tool as it has to be taught from childhood as a "dino baby" and eventually develops its own personality, mastering perfect interaction with its environment.

Developed over more than two years by Furby co-inventor Caleb Chung, the reptile stands 20cm high and is the "first artificial form of life that allows interaction between man and machine at a comparatively personal level", according to its distributor.

The perfect companion for both small and older children, PLEO represents a new generation of toys and will be available at retail from autumn 2007 at about e400 retail.

Elsewhere, the show that had toys for every age group was increasingly focused on preschool children who have plenty of time to play and are constantly on the lookout for "my first" playthings.

"My First Laptop" is a phrase coined by Hong Kong's VTech, aimed at giving toddlers one year old and above initial learning experiences on a game computer.

Big keys and a small mouse help the child discover colours, figures and shapes on a device that also boasts noises and music and will retail at around e25.

One of the most obvious trends for interactive toys is the Internet, which has been used to outstanding effect in the launch of the MiYu Magic Stones concept in Holland.

The digital MiYu world at www.miyumagicworld.com had 1.6 million hits from more than 92,000 kids in less than four months and more than 10,000 visitors started collecting MiYu Magic Stones from the online shop.

An equally inventive new approach to dolls containing technology was the new 35 Barbie from Mattel, which takes its inspiration from the new Fairytopia film The Magic of the Rainbow.

Children can use Magic Rainbow Fairy Elina to not only simulate the events in the film, but also move interactively in the enchanting world of Fairytopia.

But hi-tech toys are not just for children, with new options including toys for people aged over 40, an age group that represents 54% of purchasers in Germany alone.

The same demographic trend is repeated in most industrialised countries, which led the International Toy Fair to launch the Toy Generations section focused on adults above 40 years of age.

Trend researcher Matthias Horx explained that today people get chronologically older but remain young at heart longer. "Instead of classifying customers by their age, it is more interesting to classify consumers according to their lifestyle," Horx maintained.

"Playing will also become training for mental fitness, fine motor activity, creativity and social expertise for adults in the future."

His assessments are born out by the Dr Kawashima Brain Jogging Software from Nintendo, which claims to "train the mind" for about e30 for the software and e150 for the console.

The software is based on the theory that retirement is often not the beginning of old age, but rather a new phase of self-discovery that sees people travel more and experiment with hobbies and passions.

For example, Hong Kong company Master Leader Int'l Ltd presented several mind-training games, including Break-a-Way, electronic Sudoku, Colour Riddle and the electronic Master Mind.

Perfect for young as well as old, these electronic entertainments clearly illustrate that the pioneering spirit is alive and well in the toy industry in general and Hong Kong in particular.

EASTERN EUROPE EXPANDING

Toy imports by Eastern Europe are picking up fast, making the area attractive to the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong manufacturers who dominate the world industry, a leading industry observer noted.

Speaking in Nuremberg during the International Toy Fair, Winchell Cheung, director of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council's Frankfurt office, said Hong Kong manufacturers sold US$10.7bn worth of toys from January-November 2006.

"New targets are appearing on Hong Kong's radar screen," he said, noting that toy exports to Russia were up over 27%, Poland nearly 26% and the Czech Republic nearly 51% in the first 11 months of 2006. "Though it is off a very small base, just several million US dollars, the growth potential is there."

The figures confirmed a survey at the recent Hong Kong Toys and Games Fair, which showed that makers expected demand among Central and Eastern European customers to grow fast.

Cheung also said Western toymakers enjoyed huge prospects in China, where an expanding middle class of 300 million people was eager to buy world brands and paid less attention to Chinese brands.

"Between January and August 2005, China imported US$205m worth of toys, up 9%," he said, adding that 36 of the 50-plus brands in Chinese shops were non-Chinese, such as US Barbie dolls, Danish Lego bricks and Hong Kong's Silverlit electronic toys.

Cheung added that surveys at the Hong Kong Toys and Games Fair in January showed that children aged 6-10 were the fastest-growing market, with parents setting increasing value on the educational value of toys.

Hong Kong fielded a contingent of 202 firms at the Nuremberg toy fair, which is the world's biggest toy expo with about 2,750 firms exhibiting their latest creations.

TEXT BY SILVIA FRICKER