Electronic Avenue

By Linda Pescatore

September 19, 2008 6 min read

ELECTRONIC AVENUE

New technology makes gadgets fun for all ages

Linda Pescatore

Creators News Service

Sweaters and socks may be practical, but electronics are what many people covet for Christmas. From toys to television, there is a perfect gift to light up the face of any gift recipient.

Here are some of the hottest gadgets, gizmos and toys sure to warm the hearts and fire the imaginations of everyone on your list.

FOR THE LITTLE ONES

It's never too early to adopt electronics. That must be why about 65 to 70 percent of the 5,000 new toys that come on the market each year incorporate an electronic or battery-operated component, according to Reyne Rice, who analyzes trends for the Toy Industry Association.

"There's actually technology in every department of the [toy] store, in every aisle," Rice said. And while electronic toys have been around for decades, today's products are different.

"In the past, you'd put these toys in front of you, and it would do its little thing, and you'd say, 'Oh, how cute,'" she said. "But kids get bored if they can't participate. Just having a watch-me toy won't do it anymore.

"Now, the technology has to be working in the background to make the product work and make the magic work. The child is amazed by it and wants to interact with it, take it with him everywhere and show it off to his friends. If the technology can engage the child in the play, then that will become a favorite toy."

But with so many choices, how do you pick the one that won't wind up at the bottom of the toy box?

Brands and licenses are always hot, Rice said. The most popular items tie into popular culture, such as celebrities, favorite characters and action heroes. But, like grownups, kids have individual tastes.

"The best thing to do is really observe the child or talk to the parents or teachers and find out what the kid's really passionate about," Rice said.

Some of the hottest picks for 2008 include:

* Elmo Live (Fisher Price), 18 months and up

* Tag Reading System (LeapFrog), ages 4 and up

* KidiArt Studio (VTech), ages 4 and up

* Eyeclops Night Vision Goggles (Jakks Pacific), ages 6 and up

* Barbie iDesign Ultimate Stylist (Mattel), ages 6 and up

* U-Dance (Hasbro), ages 9 and up

* Erector Spykee and Miss Spykee spy robots (Nikko America), ages 9 and up

* Anything tied to Hannah Montana

FOR GROWNUPS

Whether you're buying for someone who's continually keeping up with the cutting edge or looking to leap out of mid-1980s technology, you couldn't pick a better time to buy electronics. Today's electronics are not only cooler than ever, but in many cases also cheaper than ever.

Four categories of consumer electronics are expected to sell strongly this year, according to Jason Oxman, senior vice president of industry affairs for the Consumer Electronics Association, an industry group.

The first is digital television. All U.S. television broadcasting will switch to digital signals on Feb. 17, 2009, creating the perfect excuse to upgrade.

Oxman said that although digital televisions are already in more than 60 percent of American homes, he expects digital TV shipments to rise 24 percent this year over last.

"Consumers are very interested in high-definition television, which provides razor-sharp pictures, surround sound and digital audio," Oxman said.

Another category targeted for growth is a perennial favorite: video games.

"Consumers will buy about $21 billion worth of video game consoles and software," Oxman said. "It's an enormously popular category."

Sales of global positioning systems, or GPS, are expected to be strong enough to land the category in the third-highest position. The Consumer Electronics Association foresees consumers buying about 15 million of these systems, which give directions to people while traveling.

"There are many different models to choose from, prices are very consumer-friendly and features are improving," Oxman said. "They're very small and portable, and a lot of them are interactive. They can provide real-time traffic [reports] and some have MP3 players built in."

The fourth category for which the association predicts robust sales covers so-called smartphones -- devices such as the Apple iPhone or BlackBerry that do more than simply make and receive calls. They also allow for e-mailing and Internet connection, with some almost like mini-computers.

Smartphones "now make up more than half of the market of cell phones," Oxman said.

Other categories that will be popular include Blu-Ray disc players and laptop or notebook computers.

Last year at this time, Blu-Ray was one of two high-definition formats, with the other being HD-DVD. The latter is now off the market, so sales of Blu-Ray media and players are expected to be brisk.

Laptops or notebook computers are "increasingly popular," Oxman said. "This year for the first time, laptops actually surpassed desktops in terms of what consumers are buying."

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