Apple's first corporate-brand licensed products will be Apple for Kids, consisting of keyboard-based playthings as well as traditional toys manufactured by Toy Biz but carrying Apple's logo.
The first products won't hit toy store shelves until late this year, rolling out nationally early next year. But Toy Biz expects to strike deals with buyers at this week's computer-heavy American International Toy Fair in New York.
"Every home with kids has a computer or is getting one, and this is where kids are spending their time. It's definitely taken the edge off growth in traditional toys," said industry analyst Sean McGowan of Gerard Klauer Mattison.
Toy Biz inked its licensing deal with Apple because "we felt we needed a brand to take us into the big time in this area, and Apple is strongest in the educational sector," said Avi Arad, the marketer's creative director.
Some observers are already questioning Toy Biz's strategic wisdom in the deal, as Apple continues to lose market share and adjusts to new management.
But Mr. Arad sniffed at concerns about Apple's long-term viability: "Apple says, `I'm easy to use. I'm hip. I'm creative,' and although it's lost a point or two, it still has 55% share in schools, which is huge."
Apple for Kids will consist primarily of portable electronic devices allowing kids to learn and play simultaneously, but it will also feature soft toys with electronic features, Mr. Arad said.
Toy Biz also is considering naming an additional agency to handle TV and print ads for the line, targeting parents and kids. Berenter Greenhouse & Webster, New York, is Toy Biz's agency of record.
The Toy Biz/Apple deal is the latest pact between toy and computer companies, as the $14 billion industry veers sharply toward electronics and away from traditional board games, action figures and dolls.
Analysts say dedicated electronic learning aids like those Toy Biz plans-standalone playthings operating independently of computers-are expected to show even stronger growth this year than CD-ROMs, led by VTech Industries and Tiger Electronics.
Tiger's overall sales grew more than 20% last year, largely due to exploding growth in its 20-product TigerEd. electronic learning aids product line that uses a license from Hasbro's Playskool. Tiger is also introducing a new hybrid line at the Toy Fair called Tiger ToyWare, usable as either a portable unit or with a PC.
Traditional toy marketers will also make a valiant showing at the Toy Fair. Among significant new products to be unveiled are:
Kenner Products' line of action figures tied to the fall live action film "Dragonheart," starring Dennis Quaid, with Sean Connery as the dragon's voice. Grey Advertising, New York, handles an estimated $5 million campaign.
Fisher-Price's $40 to $50 Creative Effects Instant Camera, allowing kids to create instant photos with special effects. Waring & LaRosa, New York, handles.
Tyco Toys' cuddly Real Talkin' Bubba bear, which says 200 different phrases, backed by a $1.5 million campaign from Bozell.
The marketer also will introduce Kitchen Littles, its first line of die-cast collectibles for girls, and the Milk 'N Cookies Baby doll, which comes with a disappearing milk bottle and a "milk mustache." D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles handles.