Not admitting to missing Toy Fair.

For the second year in a row, I skipped Toy Fair. My phone, email, and Facebook have been figuratively “ringing off the hook” with people trying to set meetings.

This got me wondering why I stopped going. There is the obvious …… I don’t work in the toy business. And the not so obvious …. I’m totally focused on interactive experiences – gaming, gaming everywhere – just not toys reliant on the retail shelf.

That doesn’t mean I’m not still interested in what’s up at the American International Toy Show. There’s always a lot of cool stuff and this year a lot of cool stuff featuring cutting-edge technology and innovative play patterns.

Here’s a couple things I wish I’d seen in person.

“Angry Birds Knock on Wood” – Mattel game based on the massive Angry Birds franchise. It’s great to see one of the first brands to break out from the phone to the toy world.

“Sweet Talking Ken Doll” – Apparently this doll will say what Barbie wants to hear. Should be amazingly successful and good training for guys everywhere.

Cisco Products has a “Digi Piggy”. This is a digital piggy bank that let’s you track what you are spending or saving.

Barbie has a new “I Can Be” line. Now in addition to being a Fashion Model or Rock Star, little girls can be a Computer Engineer. Wearing pink, but still a Computer Engineer.

LeapFrog has a kid’s iPad device for $99. It has a camera, plays Apps, and books.

Lego Hogwart’s Castle.  With so much discussion about social play, it’s nice to see a toy that by nature is social. You need a Harry, Hermione, and Ron to help you put this massively amazing project together.

Fisher Price has an iPhone holder so that little kids can easily play touch screen games. This is a really nice idea for little ones.

And finally,  apparently Lego created a life-size Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean. That alone would have made the trip to the Jacob Javits Center worth it!

What’s your favorite toy announcement?

The Applefication of 442 Laverne Ave.

I was interested to read Apple's Q3 results this week, but not surprised that they blew the number away. They reported 8.4 million iPhones, 9.4 million iPods, and 3.3 million iPads – more than 20 million devices that weren't computers – and 3 of them went to 442 Laverne Ave.

Three years ago we were an "Apple-lite" family. Yes, we had iPods, but Ben's was the first generation brick with the trackwheel, about the size of a pack of cigarettes and pretty finicky. Cate's was an iPod Nano. Turquoise, bought when she was 13 and still into the Spice Girls. Nick had the Black U2 Branded version, except he only used iTunes to burn CDs to take in his car and the iPod sat on his desk. And me, well, I had an iPod Shuffle, specially engraved with "Thank you for making Lego Star Wars II a success!". I filled it up 122 songs and never touched the music selection again.

Fast forward to 2008. I get an iPhone because all the cool kids at work have them. I figure the keyboard is so problematic that it will keep me from texting and emailing so much and I happily trade in the Blackberry. I discover right away that the typing does in fact stink, I send a lot of unreadable messages when the auto-finish typing kicks in, but I realize that I just love this thing. It does everything. Weather. Stock Quotes. Play Scrabble. News. Funny little apps for everything. Travel. Contact lists. Texting. Photos. The phone was the trojan horse. Once I had it, I had to get a Mac.

So after using a PC from the beginning of time (since back at Lotus when we have Compaq portable computers that were the size of toolboxes), I switched to a Mac. I kept my PC for a while "just in case", but soon learned that life was just better with Mac, and that yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks. Once I got the Mac, Cate had to have a Mac. It started simply enough ….. "my laptop is freezing up!", she cried. "I'm losing hours of my life waiting for this to boot up!" she said. "I'm going to college you know!" …. and I relented and we got her a Mac, which came, because Apple is genius, with a new iPod Touch, a Printer, and $50 off. In case you’re wondering, Ben didn’t want a Mac. He said “I’m a chemical engineer, we use PCs”. That should have been the end of the story.

Fast forward to winter 2010 and the iPad drumbeat starts. It's like a big iPhone! It will change games forever! It can teach anything! All your apps will work with it! It will replace Kindle! I started really thinking about iPad. I believed the hype. I saw the demos. I read the reviews. And I wanted one. It's such a cliche to say that the iPad is amazing, but it really is. I've well documented my turmoil over e-readers, but found that getting and reading books on the iPad is easy and satisfying. Games are more fun because they're bigger, more detailed, and easier to control. I love, love, love, the Pulse app – just great for a news junky like me. So, of course fell in love with my new toy , with a little help from Mobile Me. Mobile Me is quite possibly the best invention for someone like me ever. Now I've got everything I need on all devices at all times if I want it. No more worrying about syncing. Somehow everything is just there. iPhone? iPad? Mac? My calendar works everywhere. I can get that Power Point or Excel File or picture taken on the 4th of July anytime I want it. So exciting …. and to think about my future business travel without multiple electronics and chargers – just awesome.

Next came the iPhone4. I held out for a long time on this one. I tried to figure out why I needed it since my other phone was still perfect and I had it set up just the way I wanted. Then I saw the commercial for Facetime with the Pregnant Mom, the Ultrasound, and the Dad and realized that with iPhone4, I could see the faces of my kids anytime I talked with them – whether from Tulane University or University of Oregon. And I was sold. My bundle of joy arrived today.

So here we are, our happy family has expanded from 4 old iPods (still in use by the way) to 2 Macs, 2 iPhones, 1 iPod Touch and an iPad in a period of 2 years. No wonder Apple is rocking. And deservedly so.

Any book, any time, any where?

I’ve been an avid reader my whole life.  In fact, I still have my library card from the Garrett Park Public Library. It’s paper, my name is hand written in blue ball point pen and it’s signed by the librarian, Mrs. Dewey (like the Dewey Decimal System). I’m looking at a stack of 6 books on my table.  Actual printed books.

  1. Let the Right One In. Purchased for $14.95 at the Borders store in Honolulu.
  2. The Girl Who Played with Fire. Purchased for $15.99 at the Borders store in Union Square.
  3. A Reliable Wife. Purchased at JFK Airport for $14.95.
  4. The Swan Thieves. Purchased at the Barnes & Noble store in Corte Madera.
  5. Some god awful Nora Roberts book. Purchased at Oakland Airport for too much.
  6. The  Botany of Desire. Purchased at The Depot Book store in Mill Valley for $12.99.

I used the first generation of Sony Reader. I loved the idea of access to thousands of books without having to carry around thousands of books when I travelled.  I found the reading experience to be really good, but ultimately gave up on it because I never seemed to have the right book downloaded at the right time. And I still went to bookstores. Often.

Then I used the first generation of Kindle. I loved the one-clickness of Amazon and getting any kind of book almost instantaneously. I loved the reading experience, too and began to get into having more than one book going at a time without carrying it around.  What I didn’t like was getting on a 12 hour flight only to discover that the the battery was dead. And I hated not being able to send the book I had just read to my mom in Maryland.  I still went to bookstores. Often.

Now it seems like everyday there’s another newsflash about e-Books. “Oprah’s Loves the Kindle!”  “Oprah’s impressed by the iPad!” “iPad replacing Book Reading!” “e-Books on the iPhone!” “Kindle App for Smart Phone” ,  “Nook outsells Kindle last month”  “e-Books on every platform”  and on and on.

This got me thinking about jumping back into the e-reader market.  I’m not going to do a product review here because based on the previous paragraph, no one really needs another review of these devices, but here’s what I discovered for and about  myself after doing some research.

  1. I love going to bookstores and having an e-reader shouldn’t stop me. In fact, if I buy the Nook I can go into any Barnes & Noble store, read any book they carry (which is millions) for free in-store and instantly download it.
  2. The iPad is awesome like everyone says, but it’s not the best reading experience for me. If you’re a serious reader, read a book, the Kindle, or Nook. And I hear the new Plastic Logic reader is pretty amazing, too.
  3. If you want to be able to read your e-books on any device – iPhone, PC, e-reader – you can.  I still can’t imagine reading a book on my iPhone or PC, but it can be done.
  4. You can actually share digital books you’ve purchased from Barnes & Noble for two weeks.  I guess if I buy a Nook, I’ll be getting my Mom one, too.
  5. There is no replacement for the bookstore.  Still the happiest place on earth (sorry Disneyland)

One of the e-book companies has a slogan “any book, any time, anywhere” or something like that.  That’s kind of my motto anyway, but I do think that this generation of iPad, Nook, and Kindle may really deliver.

If you have an experience with e-readers, I’d love to hear about it!