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Traditional toys struggle to withstand growing popularity of touchscreen tablet

LONDON--The big players in the traditional toy market have come out fighting in Britain as little fingers are increasingly occupied by iPad-type devices at playtime.

Previously seen as the preserve of grown-ups, tablets are increasingly top of children's wish-lists.

The best-selling toy in Britain last year was the Furby, the cuddly robotic “pet” that has irritated millions of parents with its constant chatter. But tablet computers designed specifically for kids came close behind, according to the NPD market research group.

With toddlers frequently more nimble on touchscreens than their parents, major players including Samsung are cashing in with tablets designed for the lucrative and tech-savvy youth market.

At this week's London Toy Fair, manufacturers of traditional toys insisted they face a bright future — but admitted the rise of tablets means they're in for a tough fight.

“We have to recognize these days that there's a place for tablets and for technology,” said Jamie Dickinson, marketing manager at Playmobil, the German-based brand that has produced some 2.6 billion plastic figures since 1974.

“When children grow up and go into the adult world, they need to know how to use the technology,” he told AFP as he stood in front of a display of Playmobil figures at London's Olympia exhibition center.

“But there are lots of other skills that they need to learn, which only traditional toys can give them.”

Playmobil is resisting the digital onslaught, with its global sales increasing by 5.3 percent to 531 million euros (US$726 million) last year.

In the British market, the building sets and action figures markets will enjoy a 10-percent jump in growth this year, NPD predicts, partly thanks to toys linked to the soccer World Cup in Brazil.

Tablets for Two-Year-Olds

Many of the toy firms displaying their wares in London were counting on the support of parents with an instinctive suspicion of the Internet and, by extension, tablets.

Metal construction kits by Meccano have been a boys' favorite since they were invented in England in 1909 — and are “still very popular, especially in the eyes of parents, grandparents and those who buy gifts,” said Kevin Jones, European marketing director for the brand's owner Spin Master.

“The great thing about traditional toys is that they have longevity. It's great value for parents,” he told AFP.

Lego is another perennial favorite that has diversified its range, partly through movie tie-ins. The Danish firm saw a 13 percent increase in global revenue in 2013, although Asia accounted for much of the positive figures.

Roland Earl, director general of the British Toy and Hobby Association, played down the threat posed by tablets, arguing that there is plenty of space in the playroom for a variety of games.

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Alexandra Delage from Lexibook holds a tablet connected wirelessly to a mini camera attached to a helmet during the Toy Fair in London on Tuesday.

(AFP)

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