If you’re buying for someone this Christmas who loves their phones and tablets but already has all the accessories they’ll ever need, perhaps it’s time to think outside the box.
There are a lot of great options for toys and gizmos that you can control via your iPhone or iPad. Not only that, but you can make a safe bet that no one else in your family will have come up with the same idea.
Merging real-world play with digital gadgetry is heaps of fun and ranges from simple remote-controlled cars to eye-in-the-sky drones and even games that learn how to beat you.
The remote helicopter was among the first of the smartphone-controlled toys to make a big impression on the market. As such there is a huge variety of options, so don’t just settle on the first one you see if you’re looking for a bargain.
If you want something a bit more unique there’s the iUFO, which is essentially a helicopter rotor house in a spheroid metal frame. This design makes it far less likely that you’ll damage the blades in a crash or take out someone’s eye.
You can also check out websites like iHelicopters.net for a range of flying gadgets all in one place.
Parrot AR Drone 2.0
Helicopters are so 2011. How about going a bit more futuristic with the AR Drone 2.0 quadricopter? It’s much more pricey, coming in at around US$300, but you get a lot more for the price.
Not only will you have a tough time finding a more manoeuvrable flyer than a quadricopter, but the Drone 2.0 comes with a built-in 720p camera. Video is captured and stored in the drone itself, and is also streamed live to your handset.
Like creeping out family and friends? You can get remote-controlled insects that, at first glance, look real enough to give anyone a start. They’re only about $40, so they’re cheaper than most of the other smartphone-controlled gadgets out there.
Just make sure you don’t let yours get stamped on, or attacked by an angry pet.
Anki Drive takes traditional racing games out of the screen and in to the real world. The basic game package comes with an 8.5 feet by 3.5 feet vinyl race course and two cars for US$199. Extra cars are US$69 each.
The thing about Anki Drive is that it’s not just some game where players drive remote-controlled cars around a track. In fact, you don’t even need anyone else to play with. Anki boasts a sophisticated AI that controls your opponent cars and can learn and adapt to your tactics in order to provide a more challenging experience.
This is the most sophisticated video gaming/real-world crossover as we’ve seen. Learning AIs in games have been around for some time now, but not ones that control objects and beat you outside of a computer screen are rare indeed.
The gameplay of Anki is very video-game-themed, too. Wach individual type of car has its own default specs and characteristics that you can view in the app. They each also have different weapons and special abilities that can be used to disable or overtake your opponents.
You can even upgrade your car’s specs and weapons. It’s kind of like if you blended Gran Turismo with an adventure RPG. All upgrades are permanent, and stored in each car’s on-board hard drive.
Continuing on the video game theme is the iCade and the iCade handheld. Both of these gadgets turn your phone or tablet in to a retro gaming unit.
The full-sized iCade is designed for the iPad. It’s a pretty straight-forward system that gives you that retro arcade feel, just smaller. The iCade itself comes with a few old school Atari games, with others available for purchase.
The hand-held version is designed for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Like the tablet version, users can download classic Atari games to play.
NOTE: Both iCade units were originally designed with the old 32-pin connectors. So far there have been no announcements regarding their being updated to the most recent 8-pin plug.
If you have a iPhone 5 or 5s, or an iPad 4 th generation or up, then there’s a good chance you’ll need to buy an adaptor to use an iCade product.
Silverlit Ferrari Enzo
This one’s an oldie but still a classic amongst car enthusiasts. It’s a straight-forward remote-controlled car, minus the need for a bulky control unit with its short-lived AA batteries.
Silverlit do a bunch of other classic cars, so if you know any rev-heads with an iPhone it’s worth giving it a look. Check it out on Amazon.
The App Blaster rifle
The App Blaster is a toy rifle from AppToyz that uses an iPhone as a scope and display. Enemies appear on your screen and you take them out by adjusting your aim and firing. The iPhone’s accelerometer and gyroscope do all the work, while the gun itself is really just there for immersion.
PowerUp 3.0 (Special Mention)
The PowerUp 3.0 is still in the KickStarter stage, so you won't be able to get one this year. Thankfully, it's raised almost $400k, which is impressive considering that the makers were only asking for $50k.
The concept is as simple as it is awesome: take the PowerUp 3.0 gadget, attach it to a paper plane and throw. You can immediately take control of the plane with your phone, flying it around as if it were an aerial drone.
You can either wait till next year, or pledge $30 and receive delivery somewhere around May 2014.