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Mattel leverages iPad to extend play for Barbie via interactive digital mirror

Mattel unveiled its 2013 lineup of new toys this week, with mobile playing a key role in extending successful franchises such as Barbie and Disney Princess via new interactive play opportunities.

The new Barbie Digital Makeover Mirror uses facial tracking technology to transform an iPad into a digital mirror that invites girls to select options like eye shadow, lipstick, color, and glitter to apply to the girl?s live image on the device?s screen. Mattel is also leveraging augmented reality to enable girls to scan specific labels in each room of the new Disney Princess Ultimate Dream Castle using an iOS device and the Disney Magic Mirror Augmented Reality app for an interactive play experience.

?Extending popular toy franchises into mobile may be a double-edged sword,? said Brennan Hayden, executive vice president and chief operating officer at WDA , East Lansing, MI.

?On the one hand, mobile devices play such a big role in people?s lives, it only makes sense to integrate consumer products of all types with that experience,? he said.

?On the other hand, the stand-alone toy experience may pale in comparison to the integrated experience and therefore actually hurt demand.?

Mr. Hayden is not affiliated with Mattel and spoke based on his experience in mobile.

Mattel did not respond to a request for comment.

Expanding play
Mattel is focused on extending engagement for its popular franchises through rich content, innovative toys and real-world experiences. One way it is realizing these goals is by leveraging iOS devices as a way to animate and expand play, as well as engage and stimulate a child?s development in new ways.

One of the company?s more successful mobile efforts has been mobiles apps for its Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn preschool line that have generated more than 6.5 million downloads.

New this year is the Fisher-Price Create & Learn Case for the iPad, which protects an iPad while children draw and play.

There is also a stylus that enables young children to create rich content while Alphabet Animation cards come to life on the screen in 3D when they are seen by the iPads camera, enabling children to watch and interact with the pictures.

Mobile matters
The 2013 mobile-enabled toys from Mattel follow up on several others that were introduced last year, including the Apptivity Central iPad app that uses the built-in interactive elements of the device to let kids play with a line of five different toys on a new level (see story).

Earlier last year, Mattel rolled out a mobile site for its Monster High brand that features 3D graphics and entices users to show off their school spirit (see story).

While anecdotal evidence suggests children are picking up iPads and other mobile devices and seemingly intuitively knowing how to use them, the toy industry is still in the early stages of figuring out to leverage mobile technology in a meaningful way. It faces several challenges here, including finding employees with the appropriate know-how.

?The ergonomics of the toy-device interface very likely require substantially different design skills than the toy alone, and it isn?t clear that those skills are widespread,? Mr. Hayden said. ?It is a genre in development, and early bad experiences would slow things down considerably without early profitability.

?Another challenge is that the toy probably costs substantially less that the mobile device, resulting in a possible situation where you create more aggregate demand for the devices than you do the toys,? he said.

?I think [further expansion into this area] depends on the profitability of the first few integrated toys, and also how well they review.?

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York