Friday, 29 January 2016

London Toy Fair 2016 and...

Olympia calls - The London Toy Fair
Yes, it is that time of year again when the toy industry launches its range of products for 2016. As usual, Sue and I attended the press day earlier on this week to see what is new and what Meccano are offering us for the future. But that is not the whole story, there are other places where Meccano show new product and do not necessarily release it at the London Toy fair. Last year we were all sworn to secrecy regarding the smaller G15 Meccanoid until after its d├ębut at the New York Toy Fair. Again there are Items that I cannot talk about just yet but something I can show you, as it is in the public domain even if it was not on show in London, is The Meccasaur T-Rex.

New for 2016 Meccasaur T-Rex
This interactive, programmable robotic dinosaur is set to be a kid's best friend. It is fully-programmable and comes with a security mode function, to guard and protect a user’s things! I am sure parents and kids will love this one! RSP is $109.00 in the US and the UK price is likely to be around the £100 mark meaning it is priced somewhere between the G16 and G16-KS. Yes I did mean '16'. New updated versions of the Meccanoid are to be released later in the year. These are essentially similar to the G15s but with "faster voice recognition, twice as much memory and improved programming capabilities". We have not actually had hands on any of the new Meccanoids yet, but as soon as we do we will give you the low-down.

G16 and his big brother G16-KS. You can play spot the difference by clicking HERE
to see the previous models
Also new and fighting among themselves on a table at the London Toy Fair were the new Micronoids. These are the much smaller interactive, reconfigurable and programmable robots based on a common processor they can be built and rebuilt using the parts supplied or adding any parts from other sets as you choose. Priced at under £40.00 they are bound to be popular and a great introduction for any child into the world of programming. Again, we will bring you more on these little fellows once we can get hold of some production models. 

Micronoids interact with each other
Another new set is the Boeing Dreamliner 787 This is a new type of set featuring some bespoke parts. My first thought of this were negative as I am against the use of these sort of parts but then it dawned on me. This is not new, it is just a modern version of the pre-war aeroplane sets that featured bespoke parts and were assembled with nuts and bolts. The parts were compatible with classic Meccano and the models could be modified by adding standard parts. This new model is a halfway-house featuring bespoke cockpit and fuselage sections as well as standard parts. I am not sure about this myself but time will tell.

747 - Today's aviation, yesterday's idea
As usual a whole new range of sets to replace the current sets have been unveiled. Starting with the Starter sets (where else!) and running through the themed sets. This year the emphasis on vehicles and aircraft has been complemented with animals, dinosaurs and insects, in fact all the things that kids love. There is a move towards more plastic parts and in doing so opens up the option so make evermore complicated parts, actually 'components' might be a better description of many.

Love it or hate it, Meccano is moving into the twenty-first century - See Meccano in 2016.

There are far too many new parts to list here, but a couple that need pointing out are the 'new' rubber rings that fit ¼ inch pulleys and the new caterpillar track. Before you all start shouting at the screen and raising your blood pressure, I do know that Meccano had a small rubber ring in the system before the war. However the guys in the design office probably think they invented it so I am not going to be the one to burst their bubble. The rubber ring has been around for a while in one of this year's starter sets, but as they have not exactly been readily available, and it only contained one, I am choosing to ignore that too!
Digger - I like diggers!
The new excavator set, however, not only comes with tracks, it appears to have eight of those small rubber rings too. This is a very nice little set that offers the choice of being made up as the digger or a bulldozer.
The alternative model
This should be a popular set with the kids as well as the enthusiast, providing the plastic parts are accepted as they should be. After all, we all loved the original plastic tracks and these should be even more useful with the ability to bolt parts to them.  We will be exploring a few possibilities over the next few weeks.

Tracks have ½ spaced standard holes
On the model the tracks run on the ½ inch rubber rings
Now for the news everybody was asking about last year...

The next Thunderbird

"What is the next after Thunderbird 2?" - Thunderbird 3! No other details yet, not even a mock-up box. We will let you know more details as soon as we get them.

Ralph and Sue.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Meccano in 2016

Meccano, but not as we knew it!

Meccano have moved on a leap, again this year, with the introduction of lots of new parts and a complete new range of sets. Aimed squarely at the toy market (where it should be) the new range may have less appeal to a lot of the traditionalists. The use of more plastic parts may also put a lot off too, but don't be too hasty to condemn this move.

If you are a traditionalist and want progressive sets and standard parts, as made by Meccano until the demise of the Binns Road factory in Liverpool,  then you can have it. It is all available in abundance. There is plenty of good quality second hand stock around and it is still being manufactured by third-party suppliers, with Meccano's blessing. Meccano, on the other hand, have turned the clocks back, in marketing terms, and set about making the brand a market leader once more. This transition is not going to happen in a day, a week or even a year, but it will happen.

Over a hundred years ago, when Frank Hornby sat on that train looking out of the window at all the new and interesting things happening around him, the seed of a system that would enable his children to replicate the cranes, vehicles, trains and any other new and interesting subject of the day, was born. It used the materials and construction methods of the day, namely steel and nuts and bolts.

Meccano are now doing exactly that, but in the 21st century. As far as the youth of today are concerned, steel has largely given way to plastics and mechanical engineering has given way to electronics and computer control.  The steel and the mechanical engineering are still there, they are just not the focus of attention and are certainly not as appealing, in isolation, as they were when we were first excited by the Meccano of the mid 20th century.

New for 2016
Today's Meccano and especially the 2016 range has developed into the toy of the future. It has happened slowly, over the past two or three years, but now it it is here, providing a construction toy that will appeal to today's playing and buying generations. One hundred years ago this year, the first edition of the Meccano Magazine was issued, eighteen years after Frank Hornby's original concept was born . The children who had played with his invention created a burgeoning new pastime that was to continue into adulthood and became the adult hobby we know today.

The original system became so ingrained, into the minds of those who grew up with it, change was always going to be a delicate subject. The harsh fact today is that the adult hobbyists that perpetuated the hobby (and the sales of Meccano) in the latter parts of the 20th century are no longer the buying force they once were. What's more, we have not been able to  propagate the hobby to the younger generations over the years. I am sure the hobby as we know it is time-limited and that clock is running out rapidly.

The new Meccano of today bears very little resemblance to the red and green progressive sets we all know and love and that is how it should be if Meccano are going to encourage a new generation of enthusiasts who will take the hobby forward into adulthood. This new hobby will be all about development into the future, not so much about replicating the past. The Meccano clubs and societies will eventually disappear and be replaced with 'Maker' groups, while the Shows and exhibitions will evolve into 'Maker' conventions.

Meccano have embraced this change and are slowly reinventing the product so It will fit into this new tide of creativity while still retaining the DNA that is Meccano enabling all new parts to be totally back-compatible with what has gone before. Over the past year or so Sue and I have had the chance to see and work with these new parts that are just starting to appear in some of the 2015/16 sets. The new sets shown at the London Toy Fair this week introduce a lot more new parts to the system. The fact that they are all totally back-compatible means that they can be incorporated into our 'traditional' model making.

Just remember Meccano always was a toy first and it was that toy that appealed to us as youngsters that we developed into a hobby. The toys of our youth have no appeal to today's kids and that is why we have very few younger members of our hobby today. The new 2016 range is designed to appeal to kids and I am sure it will.

 Ralph.