Fidget spinners, the biggest gadget trend of 2017, came out of nowhere, and they're already so hot that schools are banning them. These decidedly low-tech devices have become a must-have for kids and even adults. Fidget spinners and other fidget toys are huge right now.
But what the heck are fidget spinners, how do they work, and where can you get them? And should you let your kids use them given some concerns around their safety?
What are fidget spinners, and why are they so popular?
Simply put, fidget spinners are the latest craze that might actually benefit you and your child. The spinners are simple (mostly cheap) gadgets that spin in your hand. They come with an inline skate and ball bearings, and can spin for 2 minutes or more while you're working, hanging out with friends or trying to relax.
Kids and adults love them because they allow for quick play and are inexpensive, portable and fun. Fidget spinners have become so popular that many factories in China that usually focus on smartphone cases and accessories have switched over to fidget spinners full time, according to a report in Motherboard.
There are dozens of YouTube videos showing cool fidget spinner tricks people can try, and some of these videos have millions of views. Like this one from Incredible Science that shows you how to do things like keep the gadget spinning as you toss it from one hand to the other, balance it on a pencil and more.
At the moment there are even phone cases available with fidget spinners attached to. Simply insert your phone into the case, flip around the case and you'll find a fidget spinner on the back. You can play with the fidget spinner while you're interacting with your phone or detach it and use it as you wish.
Or you can buy a fidget spinner with a piece of double sided mounting foam tape attached to stick on your phone or phone case.
Companies who make these gadgets say the spinner toys can relieve stress and anxiety and can replace the fidgets a person might have throughout the day.
How do they work, and where did they come from?
Fidget spinners are about as simple as can be. Inside the (usual three-spoke) gadget is an area you hold with a finger and thumb. Then, with another finger, you flick one of the spokes and let the spinner spin.
Depending on the version you get (plastic, metal or wood) and the bearing inside (standard or ceramic), the fidget spinner could keep spinning for a few minutes in your hand. Fidget spinners can also be placed on a table to spin away.
According to the New York Post, fidget spinners were invented by Catherine Hettinger. Hettinger grew up in Oklahoma and attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York; a college known for its engineering and technology programs; before moving to Florida. The first fidget spinner debuted in 1993, and her patent approved four years later. But they didn't take off. Instead, she made rounds at fairs selling a couple thousand devices and frequently tried selling them to toy companies.
Once she had her patent, she booked a meeting with Hasbro, the third-largest toy maker in the world, and even found herself using the fidget spinner to ease her nerves before the meeting with the company’s vice president. Hasbro didn't pick up the spinners, sending her a rejection letter after testing it on consumers. But now, Hasbro sells the fidget spinners; almost 20 years after it denied the original product. However, Bloomberg has shot down that report, saying that her invention has little resemblance to the toys that are so hot today.
Here you see Chloe, Hettinger's granddaughter, playing with the original fidget spinner.
Where can you buy fidget spinners, and how much do they cost?
In general, you can find fidget spinners at your local toy store, big supermarket or gift shop, but because of their popularity, the toys can be hard to find on store shelves. Online, Aliexpress, Ebay or Amazon, offer the biggest selection of fidget spinners.
What's the difference between one brand and another?
Fidget spinner makers aren't necessarily all that different. After all, they're making devices that have much the same functionality and the same, basic frame.
The main differences among the vendors come in their choice of materials. Some companies use a simple plastic version that will be on the cheaper side but still allow you to spin to your heart's content. Others offer higher-quality materials like stainless steel that will push the price up, but deliver an overall better experience.
Additionally, vendors try to differentiate themselves based on the amount of time their fidget spinners will actually spin. Some of the companies who sell higher-end fidget spinners claim that their models will spin for longer than cheaper versions. But we can't say for sure whether that's the case.
If you're in a store and can try it out, you should definitely look for options that spin for at least a couple of minutes at a time.