Welcome to this week’s first edition of iPhone and iPad Gems. This edition looks at five new edutainment titles for the iPad and iPhone from established, high-quality developers: Duck Duck Moose previously released wonderful singalong apps for songs such as The Wheels on the Bus and Old MacDonald, Disney has developed innumerable pieces of educational software, and Oceanhouse Media has published iPad and iPhone-ready books based on Dr. Seuss’s classic childrens’ books.
Our top picks this week are Fish School HD, My Baby Einstein, and The Lorax. Read on for all the details.
As parents, Duck Duck Moose’s edutainment releases have been some of our very favorite iPhone and iPod touch apps—beautifully illustrated and professionally performed storybooks with just enough interactivity for young children. Fish School HD ($2) is the company’s first iPad title, and actually takes its prior titles’ content to the next level: rather than flipping between different backdrops, the same underwater scene hosts a large collection of animated fish who join together to form letters, numbers, and shapes. Every time they form something different, Fish School HD announces what they’ve become: “A,” “1,” or “Square,” as just a few examples.
Duck Duck Moose structures the title well, using a small button at the bottom left of the screen to toggle between eight different modes. The most notable one for fans of prior DDM releases is a sing-along, automated performance of the entire Alphabet Song with a charming string accompaniment—a little bit fast, but otherwise nice—while the other seven modes are more interactive. One presents the alphabet as individual fish-formed letters at your own pace, the next has number counting from 1-20, followed by shapes, colors, a “spot the different-looking fish” mode, a matching game, and an open play mode that lets you enlarge or speed up fish on the screen. As impressive as the company’s past titles were, this one has a lot more educational content, and considerably more replay value due to all the different things you can do with it; the audio portion is also consistently very strong, with friendly and easy to understand adult vocals, slightly less clear child vocals, and lovely, clear string music.
Apart from the fast pacing of the alphabet song, which almost moves too quickly for the on-screen fish to reassemble the letters, there’s only one little hiccup here: Fish School HD is only an iPad app, with a separate version for the iPhone sold for $1—ideally, there wouldn’t be a need to download two separate apps and pay two separate prices. Other than that, Fish School HD is fully worthy of its $2 asking price, and comes very highly recommended for iPad-owning parents of young children. iLounge Rating: A-.
Though there have been debates regarding the actual educational value of Disney’s Baby Einstein series of videos, they’re certainly very popular; moreover, their near-hypnotic calming effects are undisputed, and we’ve found the more sophisticated videos in the series to be extremely useful in teaching children about animals and different places. My Baby Einstein ($4) from Disney is a seriously interesting iPhone-optimized version of not just one of the Baby Einstein videos, but rather a gateway to quite a few of the titles, albeit in somewhat compact form.
My Baby Einstein includes three 3-minute Baby Beethoven videos and another three Baby Neptune videos, taken from the DVDs, and offers In-App Purchases of Baby Mozart, Baby Santa, Baby’s First Moves, My First Signs, Lullaby Time, World Animal Adventure, and World Music. Each of the video downloads is $1—a very reasonable price for roughly 10 minutes of video from each disc—and limited primarily by somewhat cut-down frame rates and sub-DVD-quality resolution. The videos are made to look fine on an iPhone, and do, but don’t take full advantage of either that device’s peak video capabilities, or the higher-resolution iPad screen. You’re not paying even close to DVD prices for the videos, and not getting the full DVD in content or quality, but there’s enough to justify the low price tag.
There’s more content in the My Baby Einstein app beyond videos. A Discovery Cards section offers flash cards to help teach vocabulary and concepts: it starts by including Colors, a set of 18 cards divided into six colors that each have two photographic examples of same-colored real-world items, plus professionally voice-narrated facts for each item. Animals, Nature, and Seasons card sets are sold separately for $2 each, and a free “create your own cards” mode is included, enabling users to select pictures, colors, and text for their own flash card creations. A Memory Book feature offers similar creative tools to assemble a memory-testing book, and a Music section plays excerpts from songs from the Baby Einstein series—including the Itsy Bitsy Spider song, Wheels on the Bus, B-I-N-G-O, and so on—while providing a link to the iTunes’ Store’s “Baby Einstein Definitive 100” as a $10 download of 100 songs from the series.
While My Baby Einstein’s video content could use a little enhancement in light of the iPad’s release, the app delivers so much value for its $4 asking price—with reasonably-priced In-App offerings, all aggregated within one app rather than separated into a dozen—that the overall concept and execution here are easy to admire. Disney did a lot right with My Baby Einstein, and we’d like to see even more and better content inside this app, soon. iLounge Rating: A-.
The last three applications today are all from Oceanhouse Media, which has released several notable Dr. Seuss applications for iPhones and iPads in recent months; now it’s back with two different titles based on The Lorax, and a greeting card title called Dr. Seuss Senders.
The Lorax ($4) is a combined iPhone and iPad application that, like the company’s Cat in the Hat, Grinch, and Dr. Seuss ABC apps, replicates the experience of reading a classic Dr. Seuss book on either the small iPhone/iPod touch screen, or the larger iPad display. This particular story is an environmental tale for kids, explaining how Truffula Forest was destroyed by an exploitative industrialist, once guarded by the Lorax, the “sort of a man,” sort of a walrus creature.
The Lorax follows in the mold of Oceanhouses’s prior releases, providing high-resolution 2-D images from the book, complete with a narrated and guided Auto Play mode, a narrated but self-paced Read To Me mode, and a Read it Myself mode with no narration unless you tap on the on-screen text. Each mode zooms and pans through the images, provides page-flipping animations, and optimizes the presentation of text for the iPhone or iPad, as appropriate. You’re also able to tap on many of the items in the pictures to have the app tell you with voices and text what or who they are, just like the earlier books, and a combination of soft music and gentle background sound effects play as you’re reading. The combination of features works well enough on the iPhone, but impressively on the iPad, which provides ample space for text and pictures, further engrossing the reader visually. There’s little doubt that Oceanhouse Media’s books provide a superior overall experience in all ways to the plain text formatting offered by Apple’s iBooks application; if the theme of The Lorax interests you, it’s worth checking out. iLounge Rating: B+.
By comparison, The Lorax Garden ($3) is a plant-growing application based on the Truffula trees discussed in The Lorax. It begins where The Lorax book ends, providing illustrated and spoken instructions for the planting of a Truffula Tree in a pot that is then watered and grown, which you repeat over and over again to repopulate the Forest, gathering more types of seeds and managing more plants at one time along the way. Pressing on a watering can sprays water onto the pot, and using Care Hearts can speed up the growing process; you’re able to rotate the polygonal plants to see them from different angles as they grow.
As we played The Lorax Garden, we realized that it was so close to the previously released app Flower Garden that we felt obliged to check the info screen; lo and behold, it was created by the same developer, Snappy Touch. Unless you’re the sort of person who really enjoys literally watching plants grow and attending to their watering needs, the Lorax Garden isn’t especially exciting, but like its predecessor, it’s just compelling enough to explore for a little while. Its less compelling e-mailable representations of the plants you’ve grown drag it down a little in rating. iLounge Rating: B-.
Last but not least is Dr. Seuss Senders ($3), another iPhone release that also runs on the iPad. Senders is essentially a greeting card creator application that uses quotes and artwork from Dr. Seuss books to create instant “cheer up” and “congratulations” e-mails. You can select from 100 different cards, press an e-mail button, specify a recipient, and deliver a high-resolution image that’s better than the one on the iPhone’s screen.
The end product is a 782×750 card framed by a picture of the Cat in the Hat and unfortunately some plugs for the developer and the App Store; clicking on the image brings the recipient to Oceanhouse’s web site to see available downloadable apps. While the concept here isn’t a bad one, the idea of paying several dollars to send out ad-laden content to other people strikes us as a bad idea—if a developer is going to use all of the e-mails it sends as advertisements for its products, it should really be giving away the ad-sending tool for free. iLounge Rating: C.