New toys sync with smartphones, tablets

Apptivities and App-cessories seized the day at the 109th Annual American International Toy Fair.

Kids (and toymakers) have often turned household items into favorite playthings. Say, connecting tin cans and string to make a primitive phone. Or poking plastic body parts into a vegetable or piece of fruit -- how Mr. Potato Head was born 60 years ago.

Today, the apple of kids' eyes is often their parents' smartphones and tablets, even when the devices aren't hosting a storybook or Yo Gabba Gabba video.

So at this year's American International Toy Fair, held Feb. 12-14 in New York, the imagineers of toy land unleashed a mess of playthings that exploit mobile gadgets' power to deliver the "wow" factor. Most hitting stores shelves in the summer or fall, this new breed of appified toys will link first with Apple's gizmos. Android-phone/tablet versions are "in the works."

Road work

Ready to let your kid steer miniature racing cars over the screen of your precious iPad? The good folks at Mattel assure its safety with the scratch-proof undersides of the new 2.0 Hot Wheels Apptivity vehicles. To get started, you download the free Hot Wheels app from the iTunes store. Then place a 2.0-grade HW vehicle on the screen and start careening over a magically animated track. A pair of 2.0 Hot Wheels vehicles will go for $19.99.

Rather have your kid race a vehicle around (or outside) the house using an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad as the car's remote control? Hold on for the Hot Wheels RC iNitro Speeders, using a radio-frequency control module that plugs into the headphone jack of said iProduct. The iNitro bundle also will feature a compact carrying case that doubles as a charger.

Rival toymaker Silverlit is tooling up even more sophisticated remote-control helicopter and racing cars that use the Bluetooth and gyroscope built into the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.

And with Interactive Toy Concepts' Wi-Spi Helicopter and Wi-Spi Intruder car, vehicles aren't just controlled by your smartphone or tablet. Both have a built-in camera beaming live video to your mission-controlling device for tracking, recording and uploading to friends.

Sound advice

Fisher Price (Mattel's sister brand) will offer a Laugh & Learn Apptivity Monkey ($29.95) that comes alive with educational sounds after you've stuffed an iPhone or iPod Touch inside.

A tablet docked in the base of Sakar's iPad Karaoke System promises sing-along fun, with lyrics displayed on the screen.

Puzzle logic

Finishing a 1,000-piece puzzle is usually its own reward. But the good folks at Ravensburger will soon put icing on the cake with "augmented reality" enhancements for four new puzzles, $19.95 each.

With a companion app loaded on your camera-equipped iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad, just point the device's lens at the finished project. With Ravensburger's "Above the Roofs of Paris" puzzle, you'll now be able to zoom in on pictured objects -- say, the Eiffel Tower -- for better views and information. Or spin your device around for a 360-degree view of the city.

Grow your own

The joys of gardening and healthy eating are spread with Growums new "Garden in a Box" system, steered to a 5- to 12-year-old audience. The $39.99 kit (available at Lowe's) features a self-watering container, a starter kit of soil and seeds to grow the toppings for a veggie pizza, plus online incentives.

Kids start by going to to register their garden and enter an animated world for advice on tending the garden, with a new video pushed to your inbox every 10 days.