Kids: The next big thing for iOS apps and accessories

Apps just might be the next action figures, and iPad (s aapl) accessories the new Tickle-Me-Elmo. Judging by the influx of PR activity I’m getting about kid-focused iPhone and iPad products, and the apparent interest those targeted kids have in getting their hands on iPhones, iPads and iPod touches, Apple won’t just be the device-maker of the future; it’ll be a toy-maker on par with the likes of Hasbro (s has) and Mattel, (s mat) too.

Kid-friendly and kid-loved

The iPad and the iPhone have a knack with kids, as any parent and iOS user will tell you. The brightly lit, touch-screen technology that appeals at an emotional level to adults is no less effective on children, who are more liable to indiscriminately touch things to see how they react to begin with. Kids are also voicing their demand for iOS devices as soon as they’re able to; recent surveys found that iPhones, iPod touches and iPads topped the wish lists of children ranging from the very young to the nearly adult. In fact, 52 percent of children between the ages of zero and eight already have access to a mobile device of some kind, many of which are probably running iOS.

Cross-branding opportunities

Accessories and apps seem to be either fueling or cashing in on this trend, too, at a growing pace. Consider the partnership announced Tuesday between Disney (s dis) and iHome, maker of audio accessories for iOS devices. Characters from Disney’s stable of brands will be adorning iHome iPhone docks, headphones, and speaker systems starting this holiday season, at major outlets like Toys ‘R’ Us and Bed Bath & Beyond. Think about it: A Kermit the frog docking alarm clock assumes a lot of kids either are already or will be sleeping next to iPhones next year.

Disney and iHome aren’t the only ones cashing in on the youthful appeal of Apple’s mobile gadgets. Perennial Apple accessory maker Griffin is partnering up with Crayola to create the iMarker, essentially a branded stylus kids can use in conjunction with a coloring book app. Both Disney and Crayola are playing it smart, taking parent-trusted brands and combining them with the expertise of industry-leading third-party gadget manufacturers who already know the ins and outs of making devices for Apple products.

A new vector for content-makers

It isn’t just accessories getting the kid-friendly treatment. Content producers have kids in mind with their iPhone and iPad offerings, too. PBS announced Tuesday (.DOC link) that its PBS KIDS video app for the iPad is now available on the iPhone and iPod touch, too. The iPad app, which launched in May, has delivered on average two million video streams per day to its more than 450,000 users, growing steadily since its introduction. Reaching out to iPhone and iPod touch users broadens the potential audience, so that kids can check out full episodes of programs like Sesame Street and Super Why on smaller-screened devices if they don’t happen to have a tablet handy.

This is just the beginning of a coming flood. Whereas once the kid appeal of iPhones and iPads was an unexpected bonus to a parent’s purchase, now parents are seeking out Apple devices with full knowledge that they also make good distractions and educational tools for their young ones. And since people are often even more willing to spend money on their children than on themselves, the market for kid-focused apps and accessories has likely only begun to heat up.