train ride screen

There has arguably never been a more popular big kids’ toy than the smartphone. While models, personal music players, action figures and board games have existed for generations, never has the human race been more enamoured with a single gadget. Smartphones have become such an integral part of our lives that, on the rare occasion that they are separated from their rectangles of plastic and finger-friendly glass, many people experience genuine feelings of anxiety and simply cannot get through their day as they normally would.

With traditional board games and toys already falling to the wayside and smartphones, tablets and laptops now topping kids’ Christmas wish lists, it’s only natural for toy makers to strive to implement the new technology into their own creations. But what happens when old toys meet new tech? As it turns out, the result can sometimes be quite wonderful.

1. Night Sky Painting

night sky writing

In the land of purikura (“print club”) photo booths where excited girls and teenage boys with emo haircuts pose against exciting backgrounds before writing messages in electric pink ink with touch-screen pens and adding hearts, skulls, Minnie Mouse bows and random nonsensical English phrases, it was only a matter of time before someone struck upon the idea of making it possible at home.

Takara Tomy’s Yozora ni Oekaki (lit. “painting in the night sky”) offers purikura fans the chance to take snaps at home while writing messages in the air via a special light-tipped pen reminiscent of a Playstation Move controller. The free Yozora ni Oekaki application for iOS records the movement of your pen as the photo is being taken, adding whatever has been drawn by the user to the image. Hearts, smileys, phallic symbols; the sky’s the limit!

▼ Here, Thing from the Addams Family demonstrates how to hold the pen.

night sky writing 2

▼Painting hearts in the sky.

night sky kisses

Available from 2,250 yen (US$25) 

2. The i-Spy Tank

i-silky tank

It’s not going to clean your room for you, but certainly looks cool! Not only can Happycow’s iSpy Tank be operated via your tablet or smartphone and traverse a number of uneven surfaces, it also features a fully movable camera whose images can be saved to your phone’s internal memory.

The tank’s camera even has a night vision mode, so you’ll be able to drive it around your neighbourhood spying on people and taking pictures from dangerously low angles under the cover of darkness. The streets will never be safe again.

i-silky tank camera

Available from 6,907 yen (US$76)

3. Zekkyou! Obakeyashiki Game (Shriek! Haunted House Game) 

Obakeyashiki game

As much as I’d love to avoid using the tired old pun “bored game” here, having spent an hour playing board game classic The Game of Life with my wife while at home last Christmas, after the initial excitement of, “Oh, I’m off to college! I see you’re taking the employment route!” had worn off, we were spinning the turn wheel with all the energy and excitement of an arthritic geriatric gambler. Thankfully, though, modern board games are getting in on the act and are finding novel ways of using smart phones to keep the dying platform afloat.

Reminding us somewhat of early 90s video board game series AtmosfearShriek! Haunted House Game mixes things up by having players place their smartphone in a central well on the board, producing sounds, synchronized movies and even vibrations. Timed events keep players on their toes as they progress around the board, and updates to the free game application help keep the experience fresh far longer than The Game of Dear God Let It End Soon could ever dream.

▼This would certainly liven up rainy Sunday afternoons with the family.

Obakeyashiki game board

By Bandai games, priced 2,409 yen (US$26)

4. AR.Drone 2.0

drone in flight controls

Easily our favourite of the bunch, however, is the AR.Drone 2.0; a fully functioning radio-controlled quadrocopter with built-in camera that can be controlled by either tablet or smartphone. Check this thing out:

Retailing at 32,550 yen ($360), this gizmo from tech wizards Parrot will set you back around half the cost of an iPad itself, but the thought of being able to zoom it around outdoors, all the while being given a bird’s-eye view of our surroundings and take snaps, is simply too good to miss. Want! Most definitely want.

drone camera

5. The New Furby


They’re heeere!

Many of us are familiar with Furby- the goggle-eyed singing fluff balls from the late 90s that sing and chirp nonsense. Making a comeback in 2012, the newer models take advantage of smartphone technology by allowing owners to feed and interact with their pet in new, exciting ways.

As cool as this all sounds, however, I’m not sure that I’m ready to buy another one of these things since I discovered that my old Furby was clearly possessed. Despite having been switched off and put away years previously, one night at around 3 a.m. my old Furby started screeching from the back of the cupboard like a demonic frog of death, terrifying everyone in the house for the best part of 10 minutes until we realized what it was.

Maker Hasbro removed Furby’s plastic mechanical eyes for its 2012 release, this time opting for rapidly changing LCDs that give the toy much more character. The dedicated app from the App Store allows you to virtually feed your pet, and Furby has a far greater range of body movements this time around, ensuring that you know it’s alive and watching you.

▼”A mind of its own.” Yes, that’s what worries me, Hasbro…

furby a mind of its own

7,340 yen ($80) from Amazon JP

6. Bandai Smart Pet

smart pet

Tired of stupid pets? Get a smart pet!

Toy giant Bandai’s Smart Pet Dog for iPhone turns your handset into your new pet pal’s face. As well as responding to your voice, gestures to “come here” and being able to, walk, sit and stand on its hind legs, the Smart Pet can be “fed” treats from the in-app menu.

Since your pet essentially lives inside your phone, you can take it with you wherever you go, meaning that you can kill time on the train or even at the office, tending to its needs. So long as you can get past the act of detaching its face from its body and putting it in your pocket before you leave the house, anyway.

▼Updates to the application give pet owners new faces to play with.

smart pet updates

Of course, this wouldn’t be much of a pet at all without it causing its owner a certain amount of stress and provoking a sense of responsibility. The app also displays your pooch’s mood and continually reminds you of its level of attachment to you so you can spend all of your free time trying to work out how to make it happy. All the while ignoring your real friends, family or spouse whose own satisfaction levels will decrease exponentially but lack a real-time graph to show it.

▼If only real pets had rear ends that could be deactivated.


1,620 yen

7. Train ride 

train ride toy

Perhaps the most bizarre use of a smartphone, though, has to be the “Train Window Enjoyment Trip” model, which transforms your iPhone into a train window, allowing your little plastic figure to watch the scenery fly by on her journey.

With this little plastic oddity, both rail fans and their plastic pal can enjoy a train ride through Japan. Almost any size of smartphone can be slipped into the window slot, with different models of train and scrolling scenery also available to purchase. Simply bizarre.

train ride

Yours for just 1,400 yen ($15)

Source: NAVER まとめ

Images via Amazon JP