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'll 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. Other tablet-based Apptivities built around popular characters are coming, too.
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. So no plug-ins required.
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 entertaining, 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, priced $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 "iDevice" 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 Lowes) 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 www.growums.com to register their garden and enter an animated world populated by the likes of Frank Cilantro, Elvis Parsley, Belle Peppa and Tomicio the tomato. The gang gives advice on tending the garden, with a new video pushed to your in-box every 10 days.
MAGIC CARDS: Jack and the Beanstalks' "Magic Beans" have got nothing on the collectible trading cards from Silicon Valley start-up Nukotoys, coming soon (and almost everywhere) at $1.99 in packs of three.
Just tap one Nuko card against the screen of an iPad (loaded with a free app) and magic starts to happen. With the all-ages-welcome "Animal Planet Nuko," the cards bring to life exotic creatures you can learn about, populate into a herd (with repeated taps), lead to water, engage in socializing and (nonbloody) survival-of-the-fittest challenges.
Or slap that iPad screen with "Monsterology Nuko" cards (for ages 6 and up), assembling monsters and myths from one of the best-selling Ology books.
AXIS OF POWER: TV shows and movies used to be the prime source of licensed characters for toys. This year, a big push is also coming on toys developed from games and apps that sprang up first on mobile phones! We're talking "Angry Birds," "Fruit Ninja," "Talking Friends" (Tom and Ben) and the red hot Euro-export "Moshi Monsters."