We stopped by the Time To Play showcase to see what was new for the holiday season this year and learned about some exciting new products hitting the market in time for gifting. We noticed a few overarching trends as well, like the ability to customize the play experience for the child and innovative tablet and online integrations.

Technology Is Everywhere

The line between toys and technology is quite fuzzy these days. Nearly every toy had either an online component or a tablet extension. For example, the DaGeDar game for boys from Cepia (makers of ZhuZhu pets) introduces the company’s first online integration. The game features collectible balls and playing cards for more than 100 different characters, each of which comes with a codes to unlock details of the characters online.

Mechatars from Bossa Nova Robotics are fighting robots that kids can use to battle their friends, or link into their computers to extend play with online battles. Kids can train their robots in each battle, building its skills and tactics making each robot unique in its knowledge.

Then there are the toys that are taking advantage of the iPad’s popularity. Disney Consumer Products is leveraging the intuitive interface to create entirely new gaming experiences. For example, its Cars 2 AppMATes allow kids to drive tiny version of the movie’s characters over a digital driving course, taking curves, leaving tire tracks, and, sometimes, crashing.

Of course we can’t mention technology without talking about the LeapPad from LeapFrog. The kid-friendly tablet has been on the market for a little over a month now, but this was our first chance to get our hands on one. It comes with several apps pre-installed, but to add more, it must be connected via USB to a computer, sparing parents the surprise of unexpected purchases made from the device. It’s an attractive alternative to the pricey iPad at a mere $100. While LeapFrog suggests the device is appropriate for kids aged 4-9, we think those on the upper range of that scale will be far more interested in the same tablets as grown-ups.

Customizing Play

Kids all believe they have star quality, so why shouldn’t they be the stars of their own play? Several toy companies are enabling them to do so.

Crayola’s Story Studio is a printable coloring book. The child can go online (with the help of a parent) to the Crayola website and upload or take a photo using their webcam. The site uses photo recognition to create a line art image of the child and insert that into a Disney Princess or Spiderman coloring book so they’re part of the adventure.

Similarly, the LeapPad mentioned above includes a story app that allows kids to customize their own ebooks with photos of themselves.

Another fun app from Disney Consumer Products is Spotlight, which turns the iPad into a virtual karaoke studio. With a mic recognized by the app, kids can sing along to Disney Channel hits or their own iTunes library, and, using the device’s built in camera, record their own music videos. The app gives them feedback on their pitch and comes with singing lesson exercises to improve their performances.

While technology and customization of toys are enticing, they’re not everything. Parents still keep an eye on how much time their children spend online and with digital media and want them to be engaged in other activities as well. We spoke with Eric Karp, Head of Americas Licensing at Mind Candy, which is making a push for Moshi Monsters in offline toys and play with plush figures, collectible Moshling figurines, TV programming, and a magazine. Karp noted that while young kids are into technology, they only spend a limited amount of time online each day. Their offline playtime on the school bus, during recess, and after school is just valuable as their online play. He added that the Moshi Monster website and brand “was developed with holistic play in mind from the outset…with elements that could carry offline and back online,” taking a cue from brands like Pokemon, Sanrio, and Tamagotchi.

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