Mobile App Development

Santa’s elves better get coding | Christmas Toys 2017

21st November 2017

As we fast approach Black Friday and stories of people lining up at all hours to purchase heavily discounted goods, here at Waracle mobile app developers we’ve been busy elves looking out the trends for this years must have Christmas toys 2017.

Our drive is a mixture of unharnessed geek, having kids of our own and of course a professional interest!   It would be fair to speculate that Waracle has it’s fair share of Star Wars and Transformers fans but it’s well balanced by princess envy and anything cute.  So we’re delighted that our unharnessed geek is well catered for this year with on average 7 out of 10 of all lists being some kind of smart, device activated and programmable toy.  We thought we’d summarise a few of our favourites and our experiences so you can get purchasing, if you haven’t done so already.

BB-9E from Sphero

Let’s start with a clear favourite, if only because it’s from Star Wars with an element of cute though as he’s a droid from the First Order perhaps not as cute as BB8.   BB-9E is the next version of a Star Wars app enabled droid…toy.  Our debates will continue on this but as writer of the blog I get the poetic licence to say it is a toy before it’s desk furniture or something that will for the rest of it’s existence be staring out of its packaging wishing someone would play with it (you know who you are).   BB-9E is controlled by your smart device, or it can keep patrol all by itself.   It rolls like BB8 did,  which is still pretty awesome, and interacts with other Sphero devices.   This droid will sit and watch Star Wars films with you…and interact!!  Given BB-9E is from the dark side does this mean it would cheer at Kylo Ren’s unforgivable act?  The upshot is if your family or friends don’t share your Star Wars obsession then BB-9E is the ‘toy’ you are looking for.

Lego Boost

Introducing Vernie the Robot, who looks strikingly similar to Johnny 5 from the Short Circuit film that most of you won’t remember.  Vernie is just one of a number of things you can create from the 847 pieces that come in Lego’s Boost Construction.  Designed for kids between 7 and 12 years, Boost pivots around tablet based drag and drop coding to not only build the robot (gone are the paper booklets, replaced with mini tutorials on the tablet) but the app also has games associated requiring players to complete simple tasks with their creations and move onto more challenging levels.   There is still a mixture of the standard Lego bricks and Technic pieces but also a brain for Vernie which connects to tablets with Bluetooth, has a motor, accelerometer and sensors to detect motion, colour and proximity.  After each step of the build the app takes kids into a coding sandbox to learn how to move different parts of the robot from his face to his tank treads.  It is at the moment limited to tablets.

Fisher Price Teach n Tag Movi

If you’ve a preschooler then this wee bot might be the one for you.   No coding but very interactive.  Movi encourages kids to get moving and play games, it looks pretty impressive in terms of its maneuverability compared to many robot toy predecessors and can spin 360 degrees as it plays.   It plays games from as a simple as tag to one that describes shapes and shows off animal moves.  The games are very interactive, and active.  Silly dance moves in between watching Movi for ‘red light’ (stop) and ‘green light’ (go).  Movi is said to have over 60 different facial expressions.

Cozmo from Anki

Cozmo is getting rave reviews, released last year in the US it seems getting AI into a toy that includes coding is a working combination.   Cozmo is very small and looks a bit like a digger with arm on the front – this is important and used to interact with 3 power cubes that come with the pack.   The app is available on iOS and Android and is basically about making sure Cozmo is happy, they are called ‘Needs’.  Just like Tamagotchi’s you are encouraged to play, feed and give regular tune-ups to Cozmo.   Cozmo will recognise a number of faces after you record them and will also learn words it is taught.  He has a number of emotions and through the app the more you do with Cozmo the more points you will earn that can be traded for new upgrades.  Within the app is a code lab section that allows you to link up a  number of blocks and code different things for Cozmo to do.  It uses Scratch which a number of kids will already be used to as many schools use this as their core beginning programmer language.  Though Scratch in schools doesn’t come with anything near as cool as Cozmo.

Others to watch

Vtech Kidizoom Flix is a considerably big step on from previous Vtech cameras and it’s proving very popular.   Flix is ‘your alien friend’ who can detect faces and make funny sounds when you speak to him.   Flix includes 3 games that allows you to unlock more accessories.  One of the other aspects that everyone is talking about is if you set Flix to Guard mode and he’ll capture photos of any objects he detects within a time frame.  Another project from Anki is worth looking at and that’s Anki’s Overdrive Fast and Furious that takes car racing to a totally new level.   Download the app and you with 4 friends can race or you can race alone against 3 AI robotic AI opponents.  The track can be set up in any format and the cars will learn the track as they racing using built-in infra-red sensors.  I expect one of these might turn up in our household before long.

Why we’re interested

Our interest in this year’s Christmas toys 2017 must-have list isn’t purely about present buying (though there may be some additional purchase as a result).  We’ve been working with bots and AI for a while now and have a real interest in seeing how they are developing as consumer devices and toys.   Most Friday’s at Waracle we embark on ‘Friday Missions’  where we allocate a half day every Friday for 4 weeks to work on really cool projects that will help us practically learn about new technologies and at the same time help organisations progress early ideas to early MVPs.

One of our Friday Missions was to work with Robotical and their Marty Robot: a programmable, WiFi enabled walking robot. Clearly a popular choice of project, after all, who wouldn’t want to play with Robots at work?

Marty is a super cool little robot designed to help children learn about robotics by letting them build their own robot and then program it.  Everything from them being able to get Marty onto a local Wifi network to controlling Marty’s various actions like walking, moving his arms and changing his facial expression.

The aim of our Friday Mission was an MVP that was a simple app to help set-up and configure Marty.   Allowing kids to program their own interactive stories and games in a simple drag and drop interface.  This ended up being a Cordova/AngularJS based hybrid application which simplifies the process for initially setting up a Marty and connecting him into the user’s home or office network.  Marty certainly doesn’t disappoint at being one of the coolest (cutest) Friday Missions we’ve done. Importantly it gave us a huge insight into engaging children in programming and robotics.


Santa’s elves better get coding.  It’s not new for electronic toys to be headlining in Christmas ‘must have’ toy lists however to have so many that are programmable is a great sign of things to come.   As technologies such as AI start to become accessible enough to make it into mainstream consumer devices and toys we’ll begin to see huge and fast breakthroughs in these areas.  The toys have to also be a clear signpost to the future, with younger and younger kids getting used to and involved with creating their own worlds, games and adventures with technology.  The big question is which one of these ‘toys’ is going to show up in the Waracle office after the holidays…or after Black Friday!

About Waracle

Waracle, part of Exception, are one of the UK’s largest mobile app development, IoT and digital consulting companies.  Since 2008 Waracle have created some of the most exciting Mobile and IoT apps on the market.

With offices in DundeeGlasgowEdinburgh and London, Waracle have a rapidly growing team of industry leading UX designers, scrum-masters, iOS, Android and Hybrid developers, QA and App Store Optimisation experts.   We’ve proven in-depth experience across many industry sectors including; Fintech, Scientific Research, Digital Health, Energy, Transportation and Luxury Goods and have become a trust partner for many of the UK’s largest brands.

Our experience has resulted in a robust engineering process that has agile at it’s core.   We have the flexibility to work with small teams, as part of your own team or scale up for large projects. Waracle’s team have commercially succeeded in creating, developing and launching industry leading software products and bring that knowledge and experience into each customer engagement.

Waracle is regularly cited as an industry leading mobile app and IoT development company from independent research companies including Clutch, AppIndex and Carnival.   Waracle are also an IBM Watson IoT Partner.

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