Tech toys used to be fancy gadgets like those my colleague Kevin Tofel reviews, but the phrase now describes actual toys. At South by Southwest here in Austin I stumbled (quite literally) across Sphero, a ball that contains a gyroscope, an accelerometer, Bluetooth and an array of lights. The ball is controlled by an iOS or Android smartphone and is kind of fun.
However, that fun comes at a whopping $129 price per ball, which I’m not going to shell out for a toy. But, for those with deeper pockets than I, it does have several apps/functions, such as Drive (you move your finder on an iPad or smartphone, and the ball moves too!), Chroma (a game that uses the accelerometer in the ball and asks you to tilt it in the direction of whatever color is flashing on the screen) and my favorite, MacroLabs, which is essentially a way to program the ball and then watch it take the actions you described.
Here’s my crappy video of the Sphero on the floor of the Hilton here at SXSW:
I’m genuinely intrigued by the way connected toys can change how people play and interact with one another. Sphero, which is made by a Boulder, Colo.-based firm called Orbotix, seems to me to be limited right now because, while it’s pretty, it doesn’t offer anything fundamentally new in play. The Chroma game is similar to some bad Wii game, and driving it around doesn’t hold my interest for long. However, I like the idea of a ball with Sphero’s capabilities that one can write apps to — and there is a software development kit.
Building a platform so people could envision games for their Sphero and build them is super powerful and may be why Highway 12 Ventures and Foundry Group invested in the company making Sphero. MacroLabs might become that, but I’d want multiplayer functionality. With something like that, perhaps I could build the next Calvinball.