The future of toys is the Web

Many toys at big show plug into computers for safe Web connection. Toys that go online are easy to upgrade and provide a direct marketing line to kids.

As younger children spend more time in front of the computer and less time playing with GI Joe and Barbie, toymakers are adapting their products to the changing market, reports the Associated Press

Nowhere was this more prevalent than this year's annual American International Toy Fair, where one could find a plethora of online games and devices that take kids to secure Web sites where they can play without bumping into the seedier side of the Internet.

Targeting children as young as 3, toymakers are offering web-related products such as Web-Pups, plush dogs that come with registration codes that children input onto the a website to access games and activities.

There is also the Easy-Link Internet Launchpad, by Mattel, where parents can plug in a character toy like Elmo and go directly to the game section of the character's Web site like sesamestreet.com.

External devices that connect to the computer give parents some relief in knowing their youngsters aren't going online. Whiz Kid Learning Systems, by VTech Holdings, comes with a learning pad that connects to the computer, which enables books and activities to "come to life." Children can also connect to an online site for more games and activities. "We have become a download nation," said said Julia Fitzgerald, vice president of marketing at VTech Holdings Ltd., noting that children are constantly downloading music to their digital music players.

Making toys that have a strong Internet component are easy to upgrade and keep interesting, plus they are cost-effective to produce.

"It makes it possible to refresh the product without coming up with a new toy," said New York-based toy consultant Chris Byrne. That helps keep children interested without having to keep investing in creating a new product, he said.