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Get ready: These popular toys will need more than just batteries on Christmas morning

Flickr/James Petts
Neatly wrapped headaches.
  • Mike Murphy
By Mike Murphy

Technology editor

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

As a child, there used to be no bigger buzzkill on Christmas morning than ripping open a new present, taking it out of the packaging, and finding that it needed batteries to work. Invariably, every battery in the house was being used by TV remotes, cameras, or electric toothbrushes, meaning you’d have to triage where to use your batteries until your parents could get to the store for reinforcements. But this year, when children around the world find out what Santa’s left them, they won’t be scrambling for batteries, they—or their parents—will be plugging in wifi details, downloading apps, and updating firmware before any fun will be had.

Children’s toys are increasingly becoming digital devices, with voices, storylines and actions live-streamed in over the web. They need internet connections, intricate setups and a lot more work than just jamming some AA batteries in the back of them. Quartz rounded up some of the most in-demand toys this Christmas to show what you’ll have to do before your kids (or you) will be able to play with them.


AP Photo/Patrick Sison

The app-controlled robot toy from Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been a fan favorite since its launch on Disney’s “Force Friday” merchandise bonanza in September. If you managed to get your hands on one, you won’t be able to start playing with it right away. First you’ll have to download the app by Sphero—the robotics company behind the toy—and you’ll have to be connected to wifi to do so, as it’s a massive 126 MB file. Once you have the app, you’ll have to pair with the spherical little bot via Bluetooth, and potentially sit and wait while BB-8 updates its firmware. Once you’ve jumped through all these hoops, your droid should be ready to play with—assuming it wants to cooperate.

Hello Barbie

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
She’s listening.

Mattel’s impossibly thin doll is going through a bit of an existential crisis right now, but the company has launched a talking, web-connected version that it hopes will woo young girls back to the brand. Like BB-8, the doll requires a companion app to function. But once it’s installed, Mattel says it’s the “first fashion doll that can have a two-way conversation with girls” (but apparently not boys?). Pressing Barbie’s belt buckle activates a microphone inside her that’s linked to voice-recognition software in the app, which processes what the child said to the doll, and provides a related answer back to them. While some aren’t happy with the idea of a child having a conversation with a robot instead of using their imaginations like generations before, there’s a potentially greater worry for parents on Christmas morning: The Guardian reported that Hello Barbie can potentially be hacked by third parties, allowing anyone to listen in on what children are saying to their dolls.

Disney Playmation

AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
This is actually the plot of the next “Captain America” movie.

Disney’s half-videogame, half-toy Playmation system combines physical toys with digital content where kids can pretend they’re one of the Avengers by “shooting” at little targets. Thankfully, the system itself doesn’t doesn’t need to be connected to the internet when playing, but parents will have to download the companion AvengersNet app, register their gear with Disney, and download new content over the web. Some more bad news: It also requires batteries to work.

Videogame consoles

They’re happy as they’ve not tried to install those consoles yet.

While there are no new consoles coming out this year, there have been discounts on the existing generation—which includes the Wii U, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. And there have been some really great games out this year, making it an excellent time to pick one up. But all the consoles will need some patience to set up. You’ll have to connect them to the internet, and ensure their software is up to date. Certain games will require you to have the latest console software installed before you can play them. Some games sites even suggest going as far as opening the console you’ve bought as a present, installing the updates, and repackaging the system before Christmas day to avoid the inevitable onslaught of tears from kids who won’t be able to play their new games right away.

The other issue is that you won’t be the only person giving a games console as a present, meaning if you do wait until Christmas morning to install all the updates, the servers will likely be jammed with other parents trying to get their consoles running for their overly excited kids who want to play Minecraft or Disney Infinity right this second. And make sure to be patient: When the Wii U was first released, it required a massive firmware update before you could use it, but it took so long that many frustrated customers restarted the system while it was still updating. Those systems were rendered unusable by the restart. Imagine explaining that to your kid on Christmas.

Even the video games themselves

Some games also need updates. FIFA 16, the latest in the soccer game franchise, has had five updates since it was released in September. While these shouldn’t take nearly as long as system updates, some still require an internet connection, and they’ll still be an additional hoop to jump through before you’ll be able to play your new games.

All tablets, laptops, smartphones, and media players

Quartz/Mike Murphy
“Hey Cortana, is my computer ready to use yet?”

Whether you’ve sprung for a new iPad Pro, Surface Book, Samsung Galaxy S6, iPod Touch, or Apple TV, you’re going to have to spend some time setting it up before it’s ready for use. In some cases, that might be as simple as setting your new digital device aside for a while, but most will likely need operating system updates, to be paired with existing Bluetooth accessories, or loaded up with music, movies, and games. For some, the personalization of their new digital device is part of the enjoyment of receiving the present, but if it’s for someone younger, it might be worth setting the device up in advance, setting up parental controls, and teaching them how to update it in the future. Otherwise, you’ll be hearing from them every time there’s a new update, and the headache will last a lot longer than Christmas morning.

“Smart” TVs

Television sets are getting to the point where they’re essentially just really massive smartphones, replete with their own web connections, operating systems, and apps. Like games consoles and other digital devices, they may require some firmware download time on Christmas morning, but the real headache will come from the fact that you tend to have to input all that same information using a TV remote, flipping through characters using the keypad, or arrowing left and right on an onscreen keyboard.

Dash & Dot

Wonder Workshop
This is Dash.

Like BB-8, these little robots will need some firmware updates before you’ll be able to have your kids learn the basics of coding. Although Quartz found that they’d make great presents for young kids with any interest in science, robots, or Simon Says, the firmware update process is a bit cumbersome. Make sure you sit with your child when they first pair Dash or Dot with a smartphone or tablet, as the robots will need to be left alone as they update.


Eyes in the sky.

If you’re unfazed by the Federal Aviation Administration’s new registration policy for drones, or are beyond its jurisdiction, and are planning on giving a drone as a present this Christmas, definitely make sure its firmware and controlling software are completely up-to-date before flying. Unlike a faulty Xbox or toy robot, a drone that doesn’t have the most recent updates could potentially be dangerous to anyone near your flight path. Check with your drone’s manufacturer’s website that the software on your drone is the newest release before taking off, and that the person you’re giving the drone to is actually allowed to fly where she lives. New York City, for example, is considering banning drones altogether, and drone fliers are required to stay 5 miles away from any airport in the US.

Image by James Betts on Flickr, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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