Back in February, we were seriously impressed by a $1 children’s educational application called Wheels on the Bus from a company called Duck Duck Moose Design, which managed to create a wonderfully illustrated, interactive book from the classic children’s song — complete with 12 different versions of the song that varied in language, instrumentation, and even the user’s ability to customize the song with his or her own voice. Now the company has returned with its second product, Old MacDonald ($2), which preserves the same general formula for a different song.
That song, of course, is Old MacDonald Had a Farm, and there are nine versions of it here: English, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Piano Trio, Cello, Violin, and Kazoo, plus a sing-along version where you’re given verses to recite one-by-one for recording by the app. Each of the pre-recorded versions is easy to understand, with cute, well-enunciated phrases that loop until you’re ready to turn the page of the virtual book.
This time, there are 12 pages in the book, not including its introduction and settings screens, making for a longer reading and playing experience than the eight-page Wheels on the Bus—assuming you can get a child to sit still for that long. And Duck Duck Moose has outdone itself on the illustrations: the previous version’s were impressive enough in the sense that they were drawn and colored with a distinctive style, but in Old MacDonald, they pop with color, better shading, and greater detail, making even better use of the iPhone’s screen.
Though the interactive elements remain very simple, including animations of animals and people within the illustrations as you tap or swipe on them, the screens include smoother background and foreground animation than before, some funny enough to elicit giggles from adults, others just right for kids.
Only two things struck us as a little less than ideal in Old MacDonald. First, the title continues to lack a fully guided mode that just tells the full story, complete with automated animations, in the event that the child doesn’t know how or want to interact with the on-screen characters. Instead, it loops the same verse over and over until someone—adult supervisor or child—flips the page. Additionally, unlike Wheels on the Bus, this app departs a little from the theme with a few elements that aren’t totally farm-like, and might be better-suited to adult viewers than kids: UFOs and aliens start popping up in a cow page a la South Park, for instance, reappearing in a pigeon stage.
Similarly, bulldozers, bears, and frogs all wind up on the farm, as well, while horses, roosters, and rabbits make no appearance. The pages that are here are cute and fun, but they’re not all as theme-appropriate as they could be.
Of course, kids won’t mind. And most adults won’t, either. Old MacDonald is, like its predecessor, a beautiful little application that demonstrates the value of the iPhone and iPod touch as interactive teaching tools for kids.