Welcome to an edutainment-themed edition of iPhone + iPad Gems! This week, we’re looking at five relatively inexpensive applications that may be of interest to kids and young artists. Two are purely educational, while the other three offer different types of artistic experiences that—at least for now—will primarily be of interest to younger players.
The most impressive overall app in the bunch is Montessorium’s Intro to Math, but each of these releases may appeal to certain people. Read on for all the details.
If there’s a digital equivalent of trying just a little bit too hard, iMagine Machine’s recent release Faces iMake – Creative Craziness !!! (Free, version 1.4) would be a great example, an artistic tool for kids that could use a gentler, quieter first experience. There’s a smart concept here—a tray at the bottom of the screen lets you swipe images of everyday foods and objects upwards to create funny faces, tweaking the fixed single screen’s background color and head shape. Moreover, there are large, scrollable collections of items, colors, and shapes, as well as tutorial videos to assist young users in creating art. But the application begins with an assault on the senses, complete with wacky music and sound effects that really need to be turned off; additionally, the faces can quickly devolve into clutter as there’s no way to shrink or resize the items you’ve selected. By free application standards, this may be worth seeing anyway, but additional polish could make it worth paying for—iPad support is currently absent and would definitely help its cause. iLounge Rating: B-.
Leveraging the “prepared environment” teaching philosophy developed by Maria Montessori and found in numerous Montessori schools, a young company called Montessorium has created a new educational application titled Intro to Math, by Montessorium ($5, version 1.01). “Designed to engage children ages 2-6,” Intro to Math includes five separate collections of single-screen activities, using colorful shapes, chimes, and instructional voices to teach the numbers 0-9 and the concepts behind them. Activities include arranging a collection of rods from smallest to largest, learning how many bars are in another collection of rods, tracing numbers as they appear on screen, matching written numbers with rods, and matching dots from a box with numbers.
Each of the activities feels like a little puzzle, complete with gentle voice narration, smooth animations, and clean graphic design—sophisticated enough to feel suited to both the Apple and Montessori brands. Textured shapes are detailed enough to make nice use of the full iPad or smaller iPhone/iPod touch displays. Though the youngest target users will need a little guidance, and an app designed for two-year-olds could benefit from an optional hand-holding mode for them, Intro to Math will enthrall most preschoolers and please their parents, besides. The $5 asking price isn’t aggressive given what’s here, but not objectionable given the production values and full iPad compatibility. iLounge Rating: B+.
Two of Darren Murtha Design’s prior titles, Shape Builder and Drawing Pad, so impressed us that we rushed to download the new iPad and iPhone/iPod touch universal title Preschool Memory Match ($2, version 1.0) as soon as it was released, sight unseen—it turned out to be less exciting than those earlier titles. Preschool Memory Match offers three iPhone-compatible or four iPad-ready variations on the classic matching game Concentration, presenting the player with a 3×4 (Easy), 4×5 (Medium), 5×6 (Hard), or 10×10 (Super Duper Hard, iPad-only) grid of cards that are flipped over to reveal images from five categories—transportation, musical instruments, animals and bugs, food, or objects. In Super Duper Hard mode, all five of the categories can be in play at once. Tap a card to reveal what’s underneath, and remove cards by matching two of the same images, resulting in the image becoming bigger and being identified by a sound effect and voiceover.
Some of the images come straight from Drawing Pad, while the audio sounds a lot like Shape Builder. Clear the screen and, as an intermission of sorts, several weird, swipable objects appear before the next set of cards loads with items from a different category. What’s here isn’t very exciting, but it is educational, helping kids to build memory and matching skills, plus vocabulary. We’d call it a better value at its $1 introductory price than at the proposed $2 level it will reach thereafter. iLounge Rating: B-.
Magic Artist ($1, version 1.0) by Philipp Lenssen is the type of application we’ve commonly featured in our Small Apps column, but it was worth including here with other artistic applications to provide some context. In essence, Magic Artist is a realtime version of Adobe Photoshop’s Fresco artistic filter, transforming any image from your Photos library (or iPhone camera) into a paintbrush-styled rendition complete with deliberate painters’ imperfections. You select the image, watch the drawing happen in realtime—over the course of a couple of minutes—then save it if you like how it turned out, oddly at a 720×480 resolution, and without specific iPad support. That’s really all it does, and though the expensive Photoshop spits out the finished image in seconds, Magic Artist’s slower, watch as it goes process is touted as being worth watching in and of itself. It’s actually a little entertaining, and the results are distinctive enough that artsy users might enjoy e-mailing these renditions rather than pure photos. We’d be more excited if this app provided a wider collection of artistic styles to choose from, but for $1, it’s not bad. iLounge Rating: B-.
Last but not least is WebPad ($5, version 0.2.0) by Ignition Soft, an application that was submitted for review in what we’d describe as an interesting but unfinished state. The one-sentence reason WebPad is compelling: it lets people watch over the web in realtime as you draw sketches on your iPad, and preserves copies of your finished sketches for later viewing. No configuration is necessary: just load the app, sign up for a free account, and you’re given a web address to share with your friends or family. Tell three or six friends to check out your page as you’re sending out directions for the next phase of a scavenger hunt, draw pictures for your family from the office, give the URL to a special someone and write them love notes, or whatever—one or more people can watch your sketching via any web browser, live. It works, and conceptually, it’s pretty cool.
The devil is in the details. Your collection of tools is ultra-limited, consisting only of five color choices and three thicknesses of a marker-like pen controlled by your finger. WebPad’s also a little laggy, so you’re not given the precision control over your simple marker that might let you create soft curves with ease. But these issues are nothing by comparison with the discovery that your creations are completely public to WebPad’s users, with all of your creations going into a Recently Added pool that saw our seemingly private drawings receiving attention—and even a comment—from other users, without a conspicuous tool to delete past sketches. Additionally, URLs for both users and drawings turn out to be sequentially generated without any sort of encryption, so people can discover you or your drawings just by entering random numbers. Conceptually, WebPad is a great idea, but $5 is too much to ask for something with such limited drawing tools and no privacy settings. For now, we’d call it better than a demo, but not quite ready for prime time. iLounge Rating: C-.