Tuck students compile list of season's top toys

| 11/27/11 11:00pm

Everyone loved the digital dancing alien. Despite looking "really weird and not terribly compelling," the "Fijit" was "pretty entertaining," Colin Carrihill Tu'12 said about one of many toy models created by outside manufacturers using advanced technology tools and assessed by students and professors at the Tuck School of Business.

Carrihill and 11 other Tuck students have collaborated with Tuck professor and director of the Center for Digital Strategies Eric Johnson to compile a list of the 13 best tech toys for the holiday season, according to Johnson. Although made to be sold on a mass market, the toys incorporate various advanced technologies, such as cutting-edge voice recognition capabilities that allow consumers to interact with the Fijit.

The 13 toys all under $100 range from the Fijit to the "Hot Wheels Video Racer," which records video as it drives, according to Johnson.

"We're focused on how the technology is used in the toy to create play value,' or if kids will play with it," he said.

A number of this year's toys incorporate video technology, reflecting a nationwide trend of interest in video products, Johnson said.

"Every year, there are different technologies that hit a price point where they become viable, and this year, video hit that price point," Johnson said. "So suddenly you see video becoming integrated into all these other toys. It's pretty amazing."

After researching 100 toys through catalogs and major manufacturing sites this fall, the group eventually whittled down its list and purchased 15 products to test, according to Carrihill. The toys the team examines are usually new products released for the year's holiday season, according to Johnson.

Students did not use a rigid rubric when selecting the toys, but instead weighed many factors, including the toy's play value, whether it integrated technology in a new or unique way and whether the toy took an expensive technology and made it accessible, according to Carrihill.

A popular toy choice among students was LeapFrog's "LeapPad," an interactive electronic tablet for kids, according to Johnson.

"It's got a high resolution screen and a nice video camera," he said. "It was a hot one right out of the get-go."

The group also invited younger kids to come to Tuck and play with the toys, according to Johnson.

"Toys are one of those rare markets where the purchaser and consumer are different people, so trying to get a hold on how manufacturers deal with that disconnect is pretty interesting," Carrihill said.

Another notable toy ranked high on the group's list was the "Monster High" by Mattell. The purchase of the customizable doll allows users to access web episodes of their doll online and download iPhone applications about their doll.

"What's cool about the Monster High is that they've made it multi-media and cross platform," Carrihill said.

Five out of the 13 tech toys were developed by Mattell, according to the list published by the group.

Despite initially reviewing toys in the $250-and-under range, the group made a conscious effort to keep all of its tech toys under $100, according to Carrihill.

"It felt a little irresponsible to push toys that were over $100 dollars," Carrihill said. "Even the LeapPad at $99 made us think pretty hard."

All of the students involved in the project are in their second year at Tuck, Carrihill said. As a non-credit project, students who expressed interest in the group needed to have free time in their schedules to meet and evaluate the toys. Most first-year students lack the necessary time to invest in such a long-term endeavor in their first semester at Tuck, according to Carrihill.

Carrihill, who interned with Amazon's "toys group" last summer, said the toy market is very interesting from a business perspective, as deciding which toys to buy is a nuanced and fast-paced process.

"The process is compressed into two months, so it's really like fashion or a hits-based business," Carrihill said.

Now in its 10th year, the tech toys project "has gotten quite popular," Johnson said.

While the toy evaluation process has many educational benefits for students involved in the project, Johnson said he started the project for other, less educational reasons.

"It's really just for fun," Johnson said. "I think the great thing about toys is that it's just a high innovation industry."

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