Welcome to a special kid-focused edition of iPhone + iPad Gems! Today, we’re looking at three applications for kids—two are books for children two years of age and up, while the third is an app for toddlers.
While all three apps are pretty good, our top pick of the bunch is Pete and the Secret of Flying. Read on for all the details.
Baby Play Face (free, version 2.0) from BabyPlayFace LLC is a universal iPad and iPhone/iPod touch application designed for really young children, using a cartoony 3-D model of an infant’s head to teach basic words. Sitting with your baby, one of you can tap on the virtual face to hear words and watch animations: touch the nose and you’ll see it wiggle, while the word “nose” is spoken and briefly shown on the screen. “Ear,” “hair,” and “chin” will all make the on-screen baby tilt its head, while “eye” or “eyes” lead to winks and “mouth” creates a smile. Each animation shows off the polygonal model’s gentle curves, as a happy song plays in the background. It’s all pleasant, simple stuff for a young child, and a nice way to introduce early words.
While the app’s entirely free, the developer now offers two $1 in-app purchases: one is called Multi-Lingual Mode, and lets you toggle between 14 languages for the words, while the other is called Expressions, and adds “Happy,” “Sad,” and “Angry” animations. They’re described—accurately—as triggered “when baby shakes the device,” though we’re not entirely comfortable with any app that has kids shaking iOS devices around given how fragile some are. The facial expressions in the Expressions purchase could stand to be on screen a little longer, and more pronounced, too. These issues aside, this is a nice little app, and worth checking out for parents who want to enjoy supervised learning time with their babies. iLounge Rating: B.
We really wanted to love Ideal Binary’s Grimm’s Red Riding Hood – 3D Interactive Pop-Up Book ($4), sequel to last year’s Grimm’s Rapunzel, which we reviewed and found to be great last year. But despite its positives, including an obviously different storyline, the Red Riding Hood app is an extremely similar follow-up, substituting different characters and plot details within the same types of activities that were in the prior title.
As in Rapunzel, Ideal Binary provides iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch users with a cartoony on-screen book that alternates between two orientations: upright with written and optionally voice-narrated pages of text, shifting to laying on a table with 2-D objects popping out of its pages. When it’s on the virtual table, tilting the iOS device changes your view of the book, making its objects shift in perspective, and kids are told to touch certain items to trigger events. The effect is just as impressive as it was in Rapunzel, and kids will be drawn into the book with the same sort of immediate interest and appeal. Early on, you’ll need to clean up Red Riding Hood’s room, gather food to put in a basket for her grandmother, and make clouds rain on a path to show her the way to her grandmother’s house. Later, Red Riding Hood encounters the wolf who ate her grandmother, and is rescued by a woodcutter—through modifications to the original story, the woodcutter is first rescued by the girl, seeing him transform from a frog into a man after eating a bunch of flies.
While it’s obvious that Ideal Binary was trying to find ways to extend and in some ways soften the sometimes gory original story, it hasn’t totally succeeded here. First, it doesn’t take long for Red Riding Hood’s activities to feel a lot like ones that were introduced in Rapunzel, though the developer has changed up both the graphics and challenges just enough that they’re not identical. Second, at some points, the activities feel too simplistic, as when you need to tap on signposts the wolf is running by, while at other times, they’re confusingly hard, including when the woodcutter is chasing the wolf using a back-and-forth swipe gadget on the bottom of the screen. Third, the story ends on an odd note, as the characters and the wolf’s skinned hide are all depicted dreaming of different objects for some odd reason. There were multiple endings to various versions of the Red Riding Hood story, but this one’s just bizarre.
Though it’s still a good app by App Store standards, Grimm’s Red Riding Hood would have benefitted from a little extra time in the oven before release, with some extra polish to its storyline and activities. The level of sophistication in its pop-up screens, the kind voice of its female narrator, and the charm of its upbeat, fantasy-themed looping song will be enough to win over some early users, but we’d like to see it receive an extra coat of polish—enough to make it stand apart from Rapunzel. iLounge Rating: B.
Thanks to both the iBookstore and the App Store, there’s been no shortage of books—and kids’ books—for the iPad since its release last year, and there’s nothing particularly surprising about Pete and the Secret of Flying HD ($2), an iPad-only storybook from Shape Minds and Moving Images. Yet as common as the theme might sound, Pete turns out to be a really nice book because of its content and message. You hold the iPad strictly in vertical orientation for an animated page-turning book about a bird and his family, watching as Pete is told that he and other chick-like birds aren’t capable of flying, only to prove otherwise through his practice and courage. It’s an uplifting, positive story for kids, and one that any parent can feel confident handing over to a child aged two or older.
Beyond the roughly 25-page story, which is clearly and nicely narrated with a brief introductory song, Pete has really nice animation from page to page—and isn’t restricted by traditional page-flipping conventions. While kids can tap forward and backward arrows to move through the story, the app sometimes includes triple-tall pages or multi-screen elements, and lets you progress either with the arrows or through taps on Pete. Only a couple of user elements could use some work: the arrows tend to blend into the otherwise attractively designed pages rather than standing out, and the app is sadly iPad-specific for no good reason; Shape Minds sells a separate iPod touch/iPhone version for $1. Little tweaks could make Pete truly great, but it’s a very good book for kids as-is. iLounge Rating: B+.