27 May 2016
Toys that Teach
Smart products designed to encourage children to learn, as well as to help develop coordination and social skills dominated the Guangzhou International Kids Industry Expo, held in March. Health and safety was another key theme, with several exhibitors highlighting products to help parents remotely track their children, while others featured measures to protect youngsters’ eyesight from excessive use of electronic devices.
But it was smart products that dominated this year's Guangzhou expo, with the majority of exhibitors keen to promote their products’ educational benefits. A large number of children's watches, learning devices and educational toys highlighted interactivity and parent-child communication.
Many exhibitors believed that toys and electronics that lack an educational dimension will inevitably fall out of favour with parents.
Fun and Educational
One company keen to highlight the educational aspects of its products was Putao Technology. The Shanghai-based business specialises in products for children aged 3-12 and, this year, was promoting its Tanshuohao ("Explorer") range, an electronic toy that combines hardware with software.
"Today's children unavoidably come into contact with a number of electronic products, notably iPads, video games and smartphones,” said Wang Chunyang, the company's Sales Manager. “Our starting point is guiding children to better interact when they play games. Through the Explorer, we hope to promote the process of learning while playing."
Explorer is based on an iPad and comes with a sensor, a Rubik's Cube, a set of tangram puzzles and two hand drums, as well as a variety of apps. Courtesy of its image-recognition software, the movements made by the player in the play area are shown in real-time on the iPad screen.
"In the case of the tangram puzzles, for instance, we have designed a little fox character – Taotao – who encounters all kinds of obstacles in the woods, said Mr Wang. “The player can help Taotao overcome these obstacles using the tangram pieces. After the player has put a tangram piece into position and pushed it into the identification zone, the sensor automatically recognises it and Taotao will be able to get over the obstacle if the correct piece was chosen.
"We have also added many philosophical concepts to our game and there are different ways to overcome obstacles. Our object is to make children understand the relationship between cause and effect and learn that different 'causes' may lead to different 'effects' and that not every way is a way out."
The company also offered Fantasy Garden of Bandari, a musical game that features more than 70 well-known Chinese and foreign songs and can work in solo and duet modes. In the duet mode, parents can sing with their children and enjoy the activity together as a family. The company also has Rubik's Cube games that help to train children's hand-eye coordination and three-dimensional reasoning.
Based on the Explorer hardware, Putao has also developed the Taotao Shijie ("painting world") suite of software, which allows children to paint famous buildings and animals in any colour.
Demonstrating the painting process, Mr Wang showed how easy it was to apply paint on a peacock card, with the iPad sensor then scanning the painting process and converting the picture into a three-dimensional on-screen representation. After completing the painting, the on-screen bird fans out a train of iridescent feathers. The software also helps children learn about peacocks' behaviour and habitat.
Beijing Raybox Animation Technology was another exhibitor seeking to help children learn while having fun. The company's original animation series Tuteng Lingyu ("Totem Territory") will begin airing this summer. According to Qi Ji, the company's Senior Licensing Manager, China is a huge market for children's products, while animated films remain the favourite genre of many youngsters.
Connectivity for Fun and Safety
Digital connectivity was also a common theme on many exhibition stands this year. One such product was the AI Bird, a cheeky, lifelike and loveable parrot produced by Shenzhen-based iParrot. According to Sun Tao, the company's General Manager, the toy uses voice-recognition technology to allow owners to “train” the bird to speak, sing and answer questions. It responds to touch by making funny movements or sounds, and twitters in reply to whistling.
Users can link up a flock of parrots, which will give a variety of performances, including telling stories, reading riddles, reciting Tang poetry, and singing English songs.
Users may also use a smartphone app, developed by iParrot, to “raise” the bird, with the bird's strength increasing the more it is fed and looked after. They may also pick an item on the app's song list and teach the bird to perform. The product is priced at about Rmb100, with the company reporting orders for more than 500,000 units from overseas buyers.
Another smart item on offer was the Abardeen watch, the latest innovation by Shenzhen's Continental Wireless. According to He Zhenxing, the company's Brand Manager, its KT04 smartwatch can be programmed with up to 60 phone numbers, while a blocking function prevents the user from connecting with anyone not on the list.
Parents can also install a smartphone app linked to the watch to locate their children. This will inform them when their children arrive in school and parents can set geographical boundaries, with the watch automatically notifying them if their children wander outside the limits.
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