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Toymakers embrace the iPod

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. That seems to be the mantra of the major toy manufacturers these days.

Many of the big dogs in the toy business, such as Hasbro, are jumping on to the iPod bandwagon, the same destination that they couldn’t wait to abhor until just a few weeks ago. With sales down across the board in recent months, toymakers are looking to cash in on what they see as an exciting new trend.

You can see for yourself at the American International Toy Fair, which is running this week in snowy New York. Anything remotely musical, it seems, has an iPod connection. A short perusal finds electronic drumsticks, electronic guitars, and even electronic playmates approximating speakers. What do they all have in common besides their need for electrical current? They are all made with the iPod lover in mind.

Check out Baby Einstein, which is showing off a rocking chair that connects to an iPod so that parents can sing along to their favorite lullabies while they rock their youngsters to sleep.

Heard of SpongeBob? Of course you have. But he’s also heard of the iPod, as evidenced by Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob SquarePants speaker system, which happens to include iPod plug-and-play functionality.

Staying in the musical vein, Blue Box is offering an electronic guitar, drumsticks, and stage mike, all part of an iPod-compatible plug-and-play set for the budding musician.

Hasbro, one of the giants of the toy industry, has its own innovative iPod-enabled toys, including I-Dog and I-Cat. These furry friends are extremely interactive and allow children to create their own tunes by simply petting the toys. (That motion, it turns out, sparks playback from the portable music player, which has several pet sounds preinstalled and is, of course, programmable to allow more to be stored therein.)

“The iPod is the No. 1 toy. My view is why fight them? Why not join them?” said Isaac Larian, chief executive of MGA Entertainment Inc. Why indeed?

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