What's on top of the school supply list this year? It is not T-shirts and tennis shoes. It's the other T, for mobile technology.
Children as young as primary-school age are looking for smartphone upgrades, while the college set is getting to grips with the explosion in tablets, according to Craig Johnson, president of the retail consulting and research company Customer Growth Partners in New Canaan, Connecticut.
"The single most important thing is the acceleration of technology for back to school. Kids don't get excited about a new lunch box these days, or a new backpack. Cool means technology," he said.
That meant e-readers with high functionality, like highlighting, underlining, pagination and touch-screens. "All of these features are out now or in the process of coming out," he said.
Andrea Smith, a technical analyst, listed some of the new products, citing in particular the new Nook e-reader from the bookseller Barnes & Noble, which she said had a 15.2cm touchscreen and crisp, clear print for reading in bright light. It also indicated how many pages to the end of a chapter and had received praise for long battery life.
On the once-hallowed Apple ground of the tablet, iPad competitors are everywhere this season. Apple may be the big boy for the moment, but products running the rival Android technology is in hot pursuit, and some of the new tablets run Adobe Flash software, which Apple doesn't support on its mobile devices.
For school, Smith suggested the 25.4cm Toshiba Thrive, which runs Android, has two USB ports and a memory card reader. The new TouchPad by Hewlett-Packard, she said, ran on webOS, had a 24.6cm screen and touted easy multitasking among open apps.
For another analyst, Natali Morris, the iPad 2 "really is the only tablet on the market that kids are coveting", though she added that some Android technology was good for note-taking and synchronising.
Tablets are "cool", but are they practical for actual schoolwork? That might have everything to do with the popularity of bluetooth-enabled keyboard add-ons, including a new one that Smith and Morris like from Logitech, with a case that easily turns into a tablet stand. The Toshiba has a keyboard, too, also sold separately.
Morris's pick for a student laptop was the MacBook Air, which weighed as little as 1kg and booted up in about five seconds, she said - good features for pupils moving from class to class.
For those who prefer the PC approach, she suggested the new Samsung Series 9. It was light, booted Windows in 20 seconds and offered 160-degree viewing for group work.
Christine Mallon, vice president of retail marketing for the international office supplies chain store Staples, agreed that mobile technology was leading the back-to-school drive and creeping on to supply lists for ever-younger children.
"One of the biggest trends that we've seen is that technology is becoming a school supply," she said. "Kids need laptops, they need flash drives. We're seeing it in a very big way this year."
Flash drives shaped like animals - safari to farm - had also taken off, she added.
Cool stuff that
- Sharpie has highlighters for a wider variety of paper, including ink jet, glossy and extra-thin surfaces. Twist the bottom to push up the gel.
- Pilot's B2P pens (for bottle to pen) are recycled from plastic bottles and designed to look like one. They're lightweight with gel ink.
- Animal print pens and erasers are everywhere.
- Post-it has been putting flags for tagging into the tops of pens and highlighters for a while now. There's a highlighter-pen combo in a three-pack with room for 50 colour-coordinated flags on a shirt clip.
- Crayola has a box of dry-erase crayons that come with an eraser mitt.
- Children care about going green, too, especially when it comes to paper products. Environment-friendly sticky paper has come into its own.
- Post-it Greener Notes are made with 100 per cent recycled materials and a plant-based adhesive.
- Eco-friendly notebooks, composition books and binders abound. In the simple reuse category, stores offering water-resistant fabric homework holders in a variety of tween-girl patterns, from peace signs to zebra stripes.
- Look for rhinestone-studded scissors, staplers, pens and calculators, along with glitter binders in four colours.
- The Green Ecostore, in Dubai's Mercato Mall, stocks a variety of environment-friendly school supplies that fuse trendiness with practicality. They include the ABC Envirosax bag, colourful and reusable, the stainless steel EcoUsable water bottles in a variety of colours and prints, the Space Glitter Sketchbook from eco kids and the Coloured Smencils Bag, which contains 10 coloured pencils scented with cinnamon, watermelon and candy floss, among other things.