So Many Apps; But Can They Make a Classic Toys Better?

Richardglobalheader (4)
Have you ever seen that Disney movie, Fantasia?  The movie features an apprentice sorcerer played by Mickey Mouse who, because he is lazy, brings his mop to life so it can clean up for him.  The mop goes rogue and eventually turns into legions of mops that pour so much water on the floor that they create a flood.  Mickey has lost control of what he has created.

Sometimes I feel like apps are a bit like those legions of mops.  What started out as a few interesting apps has turned into thousands and thousands that keep coming at us.    Many are interesting but how do they work when combined with traditional classic toys?

25gw-foam-articleInlineI have always loved toy gliders and have written about them in an earlier blog entitled “Play Power.”   They are inexpensive and can provide hours of fun or until you knock the weight off the front of the plane which can take minutes.

How can you possibly improve a classic like the toy glider?  Maybe by adding an app.  WowWee has created “Foam Fighters Pacific;” they sell for $9.99 and they work with a mobile app.  Here is how The New York Times describes them in a complimentary piece entitled “Dogfights on your iPhone:"

…Foam Fighters Pacific from WowWee ($9.99), a set of three-inch Styrofoam gliders that you can suction cup under your iPhone’s outside camera. Align the wings with an on-screen template and the app’s augmented reality features superimpose a WWII dogfight over your living room.

You can dive bomb your sofa or if you are into simple reality you can sail the planes across the room as you would a traditional glider (just make sure to unhook them from your cell phone first). 

So, here is the question, did the WowWee app make the toy glider better or different or does it even matter?  What do you think?






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7 thoughts

  1. I think it depends more on the tablet/phone the app is played on.
    Watching a 2 year old grandson playing with a great Disney Cars 2 app that allows a car on the iPad screen to be moved to follow and keep track of a moving road – is proof that an app can add value to a toy.
    Pretty soon the adults were waiting in line for a go. The 2 year old was better than most.
    So an app on the iPad – most defiantly. An app an an iPhone – I don’t know.

  2. Well I second Marjorie here… LEGO’s Life of George product is so far the best toy combo of physical and digital I’ve seen around.
    I played it with my kids and its very fun and addictive and the play pattern still revolves around the traditional brick building.
    I believe this is an example of good usage of a digital platform that not only enhances the toy experience but is highly integrated into it.

  3. Agreed Brian, there’s no clear path or guarantee, in most cases so far it seems to be primarily a novelty. If sales of this type of item alone are flagging, and something like this can help rejuvenate interest in the brand, that may be acceptable though.
    To your point about digital having more potential for reengagement, we could think of the physical toy as actually just a vehicle to drive the app install, which could in some cases have better longevity than the toy. My desire would be to generate continued play for both but that may be difficult.
    Still it’s fun to see what people try and I find this one more interesting the some of the other’s I’ve seen. I guess we have to decide if our goals are to engage people in whatever way we can, or if pushing them towards the physical good/purchase is the primary goal.

  4. Bob, you do make a good point regarding the appeal to a new generation – are paper airplanes / foam airplanes something that kids of younger generations have interest in? I have no evidence to present, but it certainly seems likely that the play pattern associated with constructed simple airplanes has been better suited to the customizable, controllable world of video games. This transition product does put a tactile aspect to the proven and popular flight simulator digital games.
    The biggest obstacle for app-enhanced products is creating a meaningful experience that endures past the initial instance of play. Does a kid play with it a second or third time? Is it in the trash pile by next week? Digital media offers a chance to create an experience that engages and re-engages the user. Very few app-enhanced products have succeeded in that area.

  5. Since it creates a new way to play with the toy in a closed space I have to give it some props. You’re adding a layer of value and appeal that might lead a child back to physical play by enticing them with the digital play. It’s a good strategy.
    You can, of course, imagine you are flying anywhere while holding the plane and that’s one of the things I don’t like about this. They replace the creative imagination and could also discourage more physical play. But at some point I have to think the child will want to throw the glider and see it fly for real.
    All in all this is good example of a digital adaptation. It makes it better because it builds on the original intent, and adds another option for the user to get benefit from the product. The nostalgic purist in me wants to reject it, but to a younger generation it will hold appeal and introduce them to a classic product.

  6. The string of app-augmented products seem to be going for trial and error. We have yet to see any of these products become a huge success, but it certainly seems to be a pairing that has the press and moms interested. The real challenge is creating a meaningful play experience, something that numerous companies (ours included) are working to achieve.
    The key is playing to specific documented mobile user behaviors and building emotion, excitement, and play around that behavior. But that’s what toy makers have been trying to do throughout history. Introducing digital and physical play together changes very little. It’s just digital behaviors we have to pay attention to.
    Coincidentally, Steve Drucker (Hasbro) and I will be talking about just this topic in a panel at PlayCon in May!

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