Connecting Families in 2014: The Rise of Social Media in Toys

It’s been easy to forget about the traditional toy industry in recent years. The social media boom has created a myriad of new gadgets, many of them taken up by children, which has led to older forms of entertainment being forgotten. With the current generation, Monopoly boards and action figures have been replaced with iPhones and iPads.

This was until recently, as creative minds have been pushing on with notable Kickstarter campaigns. A number of small businesses realised they could utilise social media technology to create a new range of interactive toys – there is a generation of infants to wow and it remained an untapped market. The end results are more inspiring than the emotionless outside appearance of an iPhone, and the creative efforts should promote a sense of wonderment from children, whilst offering fond memories for parents. This could well start a promote an interest in traditional toys, and social media could play a big part in a resurgence. Here are few examples of the creative endeavours to date.

BleepBleeps

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From the mind of Tom Evans in London are BleepBleeps – parent friendly motion sensor gadgets. Models such as Sammy Screamer (pictured) have a specific use, such as through maintaining discipline, or promoting overall good health. Sammy, for instance, is designed to keep an eye on something you consider pertinent: the gadget can be stuck onto this item (such as a door, bag, fridge, or cookie jar) and, through its motion detecting technology, will emit a scream if the object is moved. Sammy comes with a movement sensor and alarm, magnetised back with loop for fixing to objects, push notification via your phone, Bluetooth with a 50 metre range, and adjustable features on the official app.

Whilst Sammy is primarily a bit of fun between adults and their children, other devices in the range provide a beneficial service. For example, we have Tony Tempa, who measures body temperature by taking a reading from inside the ear. As the official Kickstarter site states, “He instantly shows the results on his LED display and sends the reading to the BleepBleeps app on your phone for tracking and guidance.” There are also other models in development, the majority providing fundamental medical assistance.

All of the gadgets are controlled through the BleepBleeps app, which runs on iOS and Android. Features such as sensitivity and volume can be adjusted accordingly, depending on the importance of each BleepBleeps’ role. The idea behind it is to “make parenting easier”, and since the company easily surpassed their Kickstarter total you can look forward to them in stores this year.

Mailmen

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Toymail are behind these inventive social media activated toys. For anyone who’s seen Toy Story, these colourful objects get pretty close to making Hollywood’s story a reality. Called the Mailmen, they are the creation of Audrey Hill and Guari Nanda and first surfaced on Kickstarter in late 2013. They offer children, and the whole family, a cute and quirky toy which functions through the use of a mobile phone. You download the free app, and send messages to the child’s Mailmen device. For variation, Toymail offer a Daily Toymailer delivery service which sends stories, jokes, and facts to your registered device.

The range (Snort is pictured) features cute characters, and once they receive a message become shake, squawk, or judder to get someone’s attention. The child can press the “play” button to hear a message, which is often played in a distorted voice for comical effect, and then record a response and send it off in an instant.

As the official site states, they’re “like voicemail or e-mail but more fun because your messages are sent to toys.” The unique aspect here is, as an adult (unless you want one), not owning the toy is of little importance – you can still download the official app and send messages to a Mailmen owner. If this sounds appealing, they’re out right now priced at $59.

Ubooly

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Ubooly are educational toys which look like vibrant bears. It’s a highly interactive toy which listens, and responds, to your child. As is the norm for social media toys, you download the app, customise it on your phone, stick your phone (iPhone, iPod, or Android) into Ubooly’s pocket, and it will come to life.

At this point the parent can add interactive lessons to the Ubooly’s catalogue, which a child can then learn from. You can, if you so desire, receive progress reports on your child’s activities. There are more than 1,000 activities to date (updates arrive wirelessly), and the device talks to, and encourages, a child’s interaction. Amusingly, multiple Uboolies will talk to each other if you place them within range.

There’s no denying this device’s inherent appeal for infants. As it’s so easy for parent’s to monitor, and encourage, the activities a child embarks upon, Uboolies are a perfect toy for fun, educational experience. The little toys also encourage exercise, so there won’t be any sitting around mindlessly starring at a screen for several hours.

Next Generation Video Games

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Video games, which command a multi-billion dollar industry, deserve a mention on this list. Whilst 20 years ago a player simply picked up a SNES controller and played, the latest machines are more complex. The advent of the internet transformed the way people play games, and in recent years social media has been taking things to a different level.

As a consequence, Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo have been integrating social media formats with their latest video game consoles. The PS4, Xbox One, and Wii U showcase some of the leading social media brands, with the likes of Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube featuring heavily on the devices, and their use is encouraged during play (particularly on the Xbox One and PS4).

This does hint at a shift away from traditional gaming, with social interaction becoming prominent. The Xbox One, for instance, is seen by Microsoft as an entertainment hub, rather than merely a games console. Nintendo’s Wii U, meanwhile, incorporates touch screen tablet technology with its impressive GamePad, as well as promoting social games, and software developed to help people lose weight (Wii U Fit). All of this suggests video games are entering a new phase of social, and increasingly tangible, interaction.

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