NEW YORK — As kids keep getting plugged into the Internet, toy makers are following them online.
At the annual American International Toy Fair this week, toy makers showed playthings like Power Rangers helmets which store secret missions found online, plenty of online games and even devices that take kids to secure Web sites where they can play activities without wandering into the darker corners of the Internet.
“Toy companies are looking at where kids are playing and targeting product against it. Younger and younger kids are becoming more comfortable with the Internet,” said New York-based toy consultant Chris Byrne.
Children as young as three years old are using the computer, said Julia Fitzgerald, vice president of marketing at VTech Holdings Ltd.
The company showcased the Whiz Kid Learning System, a learning pad that comes with an USB drive to connect to the computer, enabling books and activities to come to life. The system also has an icon button on the computer screen which children can click onto, connecting them to an online site for more games and activities.
VTech launched the popular V.Smile learning system in 2004 and followed with a portable handheld version to capitalize on video games, so it was time to come out with a learning system that would connect to the computer, she said.
“We have become a download nation,” said Fitzgerald, noting that children are constantly downloading music to their digital music players.
According to Nielsen/Net Ratings Inc., an Internet research company, the number of online users in the 2-to-11 age group rose 19 percent to 15.1 million in December 2006, from 12.6 million in December 2002.
The latest strategy comes as the nation’s toy industry has been under pressure to bring back children bombarded with other entertainment options from iPods, cellphones and online community sites.
Toy companies are looking online to make even traditional stuffed animals look modern. For example, MGA Entertainment Inc., the maker of Bratz dolls, unveiled Web-Pups under its Rescue Pets brand. The plush dogs come with registration codes that children input onto the site Web-pups.com to access games and activities.
Neil Friedman, president of Mattel’s Mattel brands division, said new security technology is helping to fuel interest in these toys. Mattel’s Fisher-Price brand is showcasing Easy-Link Internet Launchpad, where parents can plug a character figure like Elmo and be taken directly to the game section of the character’s Web site like sesamestreet.com.