Intel Ventures Into the Toy Market

SAN JOSE, California -- When the leading computer chip maker teamed up with the top toy manufacturer, their brainstorming session produced a unique new product that could change the way kids have fun. It's also handy for looking up your nose.

Intel Corp. and Mattel Inc. are showing off the results of their collaboration - call it an 18-month private play date - with the first two products of the Intel Play line of toys, which they plan to unveil Monday at the Toy Fair in New York.

One of the toys is a little electronic microscope that hooks up to a home PC, allowing kids to see blown-up images of anything they hold up to the lens. Kids can use it to see close-ups of their ears, eyes, or even the inside of their nostrils. The second product is a camera connected to the computer that throws the moving image of a child onto the screen.

"We're converting the magic of technology into the magic of playthings,'' said Doug Glen, Mattel's chief strategy officer.

The Intel Play X3 Microscope, selling for about $99 and designed for kids 6 and older, plugs into a computer and magnifies up to 300 times. It can sit in a stand so kids can hold things up to it, or it can be taken out and be held up to things.

The image is captured in a video format and can be colored, cut and moved around by aspiring young film editors. The time-lapse feature allows kids to make a movie of a germinating seed or a butterfly emerging from a cocoon.

"We expect kids are going to start looking at everything. Coins, sewing threads, making discoveries all around them,'' said Michael Bruck, Intel's director of joint project.

The second toy, the Intel Play Me2Cam, $99, is a camera that sits on top of or next to a computer. It comes with Fun Fair software that allows children to be projected into the virtual world.

To play, a child stands in front of the computer and interacts by jumping around. In one game, bubbles slip across the screen. They can pop "good'' bubbles with a poke of their finger, but "bad'' bubbles capture the player, who watches their trapped image struggle helplessly inside.

"We're tapping the powers of the personal computer ... and delivering a toy product that is so much more magical,'' said Mary Ann Norris, Mattel's director of the collaboration.

Gene Gilligan, executive editor of the toy industry magazine Playthings, said toy companies have struggled in recent years as children spend more time on their computers and less time with their train sets and teddy bears. "Certainly a company like Mattel is looking for a way to make toys to go with a computer,'' he said.

The toys are expected to hit stores this fall, just in time for the next Christmas shopping season.