Move out of the way, kids, because some of the hottest toys for this holiday season may have mom and dad eyeing your present underneath the tree.
This year for the first time, iPods and other digital music players made an appearance on the National Retail Federation's annual list of the top 10 categories of toys, which was released yesterday. Though Barbie once again was the winner, iPods debuted in sixth place for girls — right behind video games. For boys, video games came first, followed by "Star Wars" merchandise and Legos.
The inclusion of iPods in the NRF survey is another sign that the line between children's toys and grown-up gifts is becoming increasingly blurred. Last Christmas, the gadgets were all the rage among adults. Now they are trickling down to the younger set — along with cell phones, digital video cameras, even portable video players.
The Xbox 360 gaming console, which will be released Tuesday, is predicted to be one of the hottest adult items of this holiday season — and the NRF survey ranked it as the sixth most popular toy for boys.
"That's one of the things that technology has done," said Christopher Byrne, an independent toy analyst who goes by "the Toy Guy." "It really has erased the barrier between what is a kid product and what is an adult product."
Though the NRF survey reflects what adult shoppers plan to buy this holiday season for the kids in their lives, iPod-friendly toys and knockoffs of adult electronics also show up on hot lists in trade magazines and among toy sellers. Analyst John G. Taylor of Arcadia Investment Corp. said the trend is part of a broader sociological change that he calls "age compression."
"Kids are getting older younger," he said.
Toys R Us, for example, predicts that Mattel's shimmering doll Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus (based on the best-selling DVD, of course) will be one of the top new toys for children ages 2 to 4. This Barbie comes with a crown, sash and a "Wand of Lights" and retails for about $19.99.
But by age 5, the Toys R Us hot list has kids graduating to the Pixel Chix, virtual divas who live in LCD screens imbedded inside small, three-dimensional plastic houses. There is the Miami loft version, the Beverly Hills house and the cozy cottage, each from Mattel and listed at $29.99. Kids can control the girls' movements, deciding whether they go to bed or go on a date. But if the virtual girls feel ignored, they may just pack their bags and leave.
"You're playing with a doll, but it's kind of a fun, hip way to do it," said Kelly Cullen, a Toys R Us spokeswoman.
Once they get a little older, children are likely to move on to "toys" such as Hasbro's $79.99 VCamNow, which takes pictures and can capture up to seven minutes of digital video. Kids can then play their mini-movies on their own personal video player (also available from Hasbro in blue, purple and silver for $59.99).
"Kids today expect their toys to be functional," Best Buy Co. spokesman Brian Lucas said. "They don't want a toy laptop, they want something that actually works and does cool things."
No wonder toymakers are wrestling with the question of when is a toy a toy.
"I would say the toy industry is facing its stiffest competition ever from non-toy categories, and with rapidly advancing technology, I wouldn't say this is a trend that shows any signs of slowing," said Anita Frazier, an analyst with NPD Funworld.
The NRF had been reluctant to count electronics in its toy category, said Scott Krugman, a spokesman for the trade group. But annual surveys, which asked respondents to list the toys they planned to purchase, were conclusive: Customers "are the ones that are saying the iPod is a toy," Krugman said.
This year's Toys R Us hot list, as well as one compiled by Byrne for the trade magazine Toy Wishes, feature iPod-friendly products. One is Iz, a sort of peanut with legs that lets its owner create music tracks and sound effects like a DJ by moving parts of its body. Offered by a new company called Zizzle for $30 and up, it can even be set up to play music from an iPod.
The second is the iDog by Hasbro for $24.99, a lovable pup that can lift its ears, tilt its head and groove to the sound of music. It, too, comes with built-in speakers — a tote bag and sweater set will also be available so that the pooch can travel in style.
The product was intended for children, Cullen said, but it has also sold well among adults. In fact, she keeps one on her desk.
"Right when it came in, we definitely said this was going to be for adults as well as for kids," Cullen said.
But that does not mean it is time to toss out the toys that may be lacking in bells and whistles — and that require a little imagination. Along with Barbie, the Bratz line of dolls, Dora the Explorer and anything relating to Disney's long roster of princesses also made the NRF's top 10 toy categories. And boys will still be playing with Thomas the Tank Engine and riding around in Hot Wheels this holiday season, the survey said.
Though the new toys get the biggest buzz, analysts said, the holiday season is still steeped in tradition. And kids are still, well, kids.
"There are certain toys that just transcend," Krugman said. "Each year, they're on the list, guaranteed."