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Kids love tech and tablets, but Mom and Dad sometimes worry that an addictive app will make their little one a slave to the screen. Not to worry—at the 2013 Toy Industry Association Toy Fair, there were lots of alternatives to one-dimensional iPad play on display. One exciting new trend is the "appcessory"—a play system designed specifically to let kids use tech devices while allowing them to break free of flatland.
An appcessory is simply any product that integrates an app, tablet or phone with an off-screen toy that kids can manipulate in the real world. According to the Toy Industry Association, "app-plus" toys are part of a trend of toys that combine real and virtual worlds, integrating 3-D elements into play to create richer and more educational play. Check out these standouts from the fair:
SmartSee. (WowWee; ages 3 and up; price TBD; iOS and Android) SmartSee is like a child's little robot pal. Just download the app and pop an iPad or tablet into SmartSee's tummy, and you’re ready to play. The toy looks like a simple tablet stand with a cartoon face, but it's really much more. Once the tablet is snapped into place, it's "locked" so your little one can't bang or break it. This is a thoughtful feature for parents just testing the waters of new tech devices since letting little hands play with expensive electronics can be a concern. The off-screen elements interact with the app, such as physical alphabet blocks—just point them at the tablet. When you hold a block with the letter E on it toward the screen, for example, a related video starts to play. The interactive features are both awesome and educational, combining the benefits of tactile learning with a powerful tech punch. The SmartSee will be available in late summer or early fall of 2013—definitely worth a look!
Augmented Reality Puzzles. (Ravensburger; ages 5 and up; $14.99 and up; iOS) Have you ever wondered what do you do with a puzzle once it's put together? Of course you have! Already well-known for its challenging jigsaw puzzles, Ravensburger has added a line of puzzles that can be put together and used as a launching pad for games via an iPhone, iPad or iTouch (sorry, no Android yet). You and your family will have loads of fun snapping together city scenes, serene underwater environments or African animals—easier said than done with each puzzle at 1,000 pieces. Afterward, download the app that matches your puzzle and place your device over the scene to animate it and activate features. The puzzles all have different types of interactivity. With "Animals of Africa,” the app will bring the animals to life via a short video clip; the "Underwater" puzzle will generate a "Find the Fish" game. The puzzles all have different price points but are generally inexpensive, and the app is free. Puzzles are great learning tools all by themselves, but Ravensburger has given these brain teasers added appeal—and the games provide motivation for kids to finish what they started!
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