Welcome to our latest edition of iOS Gems! In today’s roundup, we’re looking at nine applications that are mostly for kids—edutainment titles with activities ranging from basic math to telling time, remembering shapes and colors, learning ABCs and assembling puzzles. We also briefly look at a flashy but unfulfilling flight tracking app.
Our top picks in the bunch are Angelina Ballerina’s New Ballet Teacher, Meteor Math, and Memory Train. Read on for all the details.
Designed by Callaway Digital Arts, Angelina Ballerina’s New Ballet Teacher ($3) is a universal iOS application featuring iPad- and Retina Display-optimized artwork, video clips, and plenty of voice samples from the famous Angelina Ballerina cartoon series—one that’s surely familiar to parents with Netflix subscriptions. Three of New Ballet Teacher’s four sections use the same 18 images in different ways: first is a very simple painting program with 18 black-and-white pages that can be filled in with three thicknesses and 13 colors of paint; second is a storybook with the same 18 pages, fully colored, voice narrated with illuminated words, and complete with both tappable animations and voices for the characters; third is a set of 18 simple jigsaw puzzles where the images are cut into pieces to be reassembled. Finally, the fourth section contains five music video clips from the show, each less than a minute in length and focused on a popular song (“Friendship is Forever,” “Dancing Butterfly,” “I Will Be A Star”).
By contrast with some of the best edutainment apps we’ve tested, this app’s content is relatively shallow and simple; however, it builds upon Callaway’s previous formulas for turning the same general content into a variety of different activities. Additionally, all of the Angelina character animations are as smooth and impressively detailed as they are on the 3-D-rendered TV show. Consequently, kids who are fans of the Angelina series will love watching the story and video modes until they tire of the content; the $3 asking price is just right given the quantity and quality of what’s here. iLounge Rating: B+.
As the universal iOS sequel to last year’s Bartleby’s Book of Buttons, Monster Costume’s new Bartleby’s Book of Buttons Vol. 2: The Button at the Bottom of the Sea ($4) continues the interactive story from the prior edition, taking Bartleby through a series of largely nautical adventures. A villain of sorts is introduced, alongside another collection of switches and buttons that challenge the child to match colors, follow sequences, and experiment with touching things.
Bartleby’s strong suit here is in the charming voice narration, combined with the extremely detailed artwork, which spans 17 different sections that each consist of at least one full screen of artwork, if not several, plus text. If there are any issues in Volume 2, they’re the sometimes cryptic and experimental ways that the on-screen elements work together to unlock the next section, and the more than occasional tendency of the story to skip ahead immediately after an on-screen objective is completed. Parents of young children will need to not only offer personal guidance through the app, but also attempt to pace each activity so that the story is heard rather than just tapping and sliding on the screen. This is a good follow-up to the original, with similar issues that could stand to be addressed before volume 3 is released. iLounge Rating: B.
We were initially enthusiastic when we saw images of Flight Card ($5) by Silion Development, thinking that this stylish flight management app might prove useful during our travels, but ultimately we were disappointed to discover how limited it is. Flight Card does little more than save basic information on your upcoming flights, presenting you with an attractively retro-formatted screen containing the airport codes, flight number, terminal, gate, and time, with the ability to tap to switch between terminal/gate/time information for your arrival and departure cities.
That’s really it, and unlike similarly-priced apps such as Mobiata’s FlightTrack, Flight Card goes no deeper and offers comparatively slow updates on delays and landing times for itineraries in progress. A prime example of style over substance, this app doesn’t justify its high asking price, but it looks nice. iLounge Rating: C.
As much as we wanted to love the new universal iOS app Hickory Dickory Dock ($3) by Mindshapes—a beautifully detailed animated clock with a collection of 12 different activities accessible by moving the hour hand—we just weren’t able to totally get into any of the activities. Designed to teach kids how to tell time, the app sings a little Hickory Dickory Dock song for each of the 12 hours, briefly introducing an activity with a mouse that you’re then left to figure out on your own.
One obvious one is a puzzle to reassemble a shattered clock, but others—including one where the mouse dances a jig alongside bubbles, and another where the mouse gets fired through tubes—feel unstructured and unrewarding, as if a child is merely being presented with interesting little things to do but without any incentive or bonus for actually doing them. The music, the animations, and the general idea are all pretty good; there’s just not enough fun to be had while going through them. iLounge Rating: B-.
Solely for the iPad, Chris Kieffer’s iBuild ABCs ($1) is a very cool and only slightly imperfect tool for teaching children alphabet letters. Here, kids are given a screen with a blueprint outline of a letter, plus all of the wood and/or metal pieces necessary to assemble the letter—iBuild ABCs challenges a child to move the pieces from the left of the screen into the right places on the blueprint, automatically turning each piece to the correct orientation as it’s tapped and dragged into place.
While the app’s graphic presentation is nearly flawless, and there’s audio to both speak each letter and congratulate you for assembling it, iBuild ABCs presents kids with pieces that need to be laid down in a specific order that even adults won’t necessarily find intuitive after repeated attempts: it’s easy enough to understand why three pieces of sheet metal need to be laid down on the blueprint before the hinges that hold them together, but far less obvious why certain pieces of metal tubing need to go into place before others. As a result, kids will need a little adult guidance and reassurance with this one; if it was just a little easier to assemble some of the letters, iBuild ABCs would be great. iLounge Rating: B.
Far more straightforward than Hickory Dickory Dock is Mindshapes’ other title, Meteor Math ($3), which turns simple math education into a fun tapping game for kids. Built with universal iOS support, Meteor Math shows you a grid atop a starfield, hosting bouncing meteor-like rocks that are tapped in sequence to match a number within a half-dome at the center top of the screen. You choose addition, subtraction, multiplication or division at the start of a game, then tap sequentially on numbers that will combine to become the number in the half-dome—if the number’s 10 and you’re adding, you can tap two 5 meteors or a 3, 5, and 2, assuming they’re bouncing around, then watch them explode as they’re matched off the screen.
Additional objects, including UFOs, a mass-meteor-popping sun and a time-slowing black hole, appear to break up the matching action. Exciting music, neat special effects, and “level up!” voices help make the math seem fun, and the numbers continue to become more challenging as you succeed at simple problems. This is a really fun way to teach math to kids, and though the backgrounds could stand to be more diverse, everything else here is quite well executed. iLounge Rating: A-.
We’ve been waiting for a follow-up to Pi’ikea St.‘s amazing Interactive Alphabet for quite some time, and the new universal iOS app Memory Train ($1) is something completely different. Here, a child watches from behind an elephant as he rides a train seeing colored shapes, numbers, and objects, then gets quizzed on what the object looked like—initially, a simple memory-building exercise where all you need to do is specify which color a shape was, building up to recalling the shape of a window or roof of a house, the type of T-shirt an animal was wearing, or one of two objects in a sequence.
The music’s fun, the animation’s funny, and the pace of the challenges increases rapidly as the elephant moves from place to place. Really young kids may find the experience a little frustrating, but children aged 4 and up will appreciate both the ascending challenges and the ability to compete against three other players, with each person’s progress saved separately with a self-chosen avatar. Memory Train’s a nice game for kids, made memorable by its art and music. iLounge Rating: B+.
Given away with the option of a $1 in-app purchase to unlock its full content, Kids Games Club’s Phone for Kids (Free) has the seed of something really great inside. The idea of this universal app is to use the iOS icon-based user interface as a hub to teach the basics of a variety of different activities—six in the basic version, twenty total in the full version—that are obviously influenced by the iPhone’s core applications. Kids can learn—sort of—how to dial a phone, send a text message or read an on-screen keyboard, understand the weather in different seasons, and watch a moving compass, amongst many other one-off exercises that look like miniature apps.
Unfortunately, the execution in most of the individual apps is really lacking, and some are almost insultingly simplistic, though others actually sparkle with nice animations and legitimately educational content. If this exact same concept was executed with superior animations and deeper, better-polished miniature apps, we could imagine something like this being a must-have app for parents looking to teach their kids about iPhone/iPod touch/iPad usage. In its current form, however, Phone for Kids is pretty mediocre. iLounge Rating: C-.
Every new Duck Duck Moose release is an audiovisual treat, so we were glad to see the company release Puzzle Pop ($2), an extremely simple puzzle title that nonetheless leverages the company’s demonstrated art and music talents quite well. Once again, Puzzle Pop isn’t a universal iOS title—it’s solely for iPhones and iPod touches—but some of the graphic elements resize well enough to the iPad screen that this isn’t a problem. Each of the title’s 27 levels consists of a sliding pane puzzle with animated artwork that is quickly partitioned into multiple rectangular segments; as the levels continue, the number of segments increase, as does the time on a clock you’re praised for beating.
While there’s little more to do in Puzzle Pop than just slide each of the panes into the correct place, and the puzzles quickly become more challenging than the youngest kids can handle—a greater gradation of puzzles would help to make it more accessible to sub-3-year-old players—the wonderfully arranged string instrumental nursery rhyme music and cartoony art are exactly what we’ve come to expect from Duck Duck Moose. iLounge Rating: B.