Monday, April 30, 2012

LH Animal Sounds

Animal Sounds was developed by Synthcomm sp. z o.o. It should come as no surprise that in general, kids love animals. Animal names and sounds are some of the first words and sounds babies make. It makes sense then that animals is the subject matter of many apps. Do these apps, specifically, Animal Sounds, capture what makes animals so appealing to kids? Price: $1.99

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 4.2 or later.

Developmental Appropriateness: From the research world, we know that kids, even babies, attend to animals more than inanimate objects. For example, babies under 1-year would watch realistic videos of animals more than they would watch videos of inanimate objects moving. What is it about animals that make them so interesting? I'm sure experts in biophilia have studied and can say more about factors like face and the movement of animals that make us attend to animals. So before I digress too much more, my point is that I think these factors should be taken into consideration when looking at an app about animals. You might be thinking that maybe I'm taking this too far - an animal app is just a fun, simple app for kids. True. But I do think that consideration of realistic photos or videos and the movement and characteristics of the animals can separate an ok animal app from a great animal app.

So Animal Sounds - The animals are pretty cartoonish, with many of them dressed in clothing. Again, young kids have an easier time generalizing from what they see in a book to the real world when the images look more realistic. I'm not saying that they have to be photographs only, but the images here are really not realistic. With each image, there is a female voice saying, "The cow goes moo." The voice is animated and kid-friendly. While this might simulate a parent reading with their child, the animal sounds are not at all realistic. Finally, if you tap on the picture, it moves up and down, but not in any motion that an animal would make. So while this may be a fun app for parents to use with their child and make some animal sounds together, this app does not really capture what may make animals so interesting to kids. Rating: 3/5 (aim for around 3 years).

Balance - In order to choose what animal to look at, there's a kinda wheel on the side that you would spin. While I like this feature, a 2 year old may have some trouble spinning it. I'm not sure how the animals are organized within this wheel, so it might take a little effort to figure out where the favorites might be.  The written label is provided at the bottom of the screen but it doesn't highlight or it doesn't repeat so kids can hear the label again. Only the animal sound is repeated if you tap on the picture. Also, I rarely mention in-app purchases or links as I like to just focus on the content, but there's a pretty attractive and distinctive icon of a super hero in the top corner that leads you to access other apps by the developers. This icon is not just on like the main menu page, but is present throughout the app. I can see kids easily tapping on this icon and accidentally exiting out of the app. Rating: 3/5

Sustainability - There are 44 animals - which is a good amount. But again, since this app does not really capture the essence of the animals, I'm not sure to what extent kids will keep coming back to it. Rating: 3/5

Parental Involvement - Animals are an easy topic for parents to talk about with their kids. This app seems to be one where parents should play along. Rating: 3/5

Total: 12 out of 20 - 3 stars

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Magic Sorter/ Poll results - What age should kids start using apps?

Magic Sorter was created by Igromatic and is a puzzle app recommended for toddlers 1-3 years of age. It's been awhile since I've reviewed an app targeting such young kids - my target age range is really 3-8 years. I set it at 3 on the lower end because I'm not sure how beneficial it is for kids younger than 3 to be using apps?Canthey use apps? Sure - kids are amazingly tactile But should they - we still don't know. We've been warned not to let kids under 2 watch tv - should the age range differ for apps? You, my readers, seem to think so - or some of you at least. Remember the poll to the right of screen? Yes, the one that's been up and closed forever and I've forgotten about - I've reopened if you want to vote now. Here are the results (out of 52 votes):

The most number of votes went the the 1-2 years range. Tying this back to Magic Sorter, the majority of the votes fall in the 1-3 year range - the target age range of the app. So maybe it's just me being conservative on the age. What do we expect from apps for these young kids? Does Magic Sorter convince me that apps should target kids under 3? Price: $1.99

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPad.Requires iOS 4.1 or later.

Developmental Appropriateness: This app is all about puzzles - puzzles about color, sizes, and a classic jigsaw puzzle. sure, these are great puzzles for toddlers. Does making them into an app add any value than just have regular old physical puzzles? Not really. I guess when I think about educational apps, I think about what can it add that the traditional activity doesn't have? Sure, convenience/portability, etc. But I don't think that this app takes learning to the next step.

In terms of usability - I"m going to say it again - drag and drop is not easy for young kids. Watch the video. This girl was chosen to do this video - meaning she's probably been prepped. Watch her drag the puzzle pieces - it's not exactly easy for her. 

Rating: 3/5 (aim for around 3 years).

Balance: The app is very simple and user-friendly. For this age group though, parents will need to help navigate and show their child what to do. There's some animation at the end of each puzzle (watch the little girl dance) :) Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: There are a bunch of puzzles and the categories of puzzles also add to the variety. Rating: 4/5

Parental Involvement: The developers acknowledge that parents may need to assist, but again, usability is not the type of involvement I look for from parents. However, I will say that some of the puzzles lend themselves to "teachable" moments like talking about size, shape, and color. Rating: 3.5/5

So, I'm still not convinced of the benefits of apps for kids under 3.

Total: 14.5 out of 20 - 3 stars

Disclosure: I received this app for free for review purposes.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Mermaid Waters

Mermaid Waters was created by Stickery PTE. LTD. Help Hana and Cory rescue sea creatures by playing 4 different mini-math games. The first few levels are free, but then you must purchase the next levels for $2.99. Are Hana and Cory's rescue plot and games good enough to get you to purchase the ending? Price: Free, with in-app purchase for $2.99

Device RequirementsCompatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.Requires iOS 4.3 or later.

Developmental Appropriateness: The games here are based on the California Preschool Curriculum. So in that sense, the skills that these games target (number recognition, quantity discrimination (more or less), size, and early addition) are right on. The question is, do these games apply those skills well? I think only somewhat. At least for the beginning levels, one could finish the levels without really understanding or mastering the skill. Two of the skills present two options (e.g. which fish is bigger?; or which box has more fish?), so you have a 50/50 shot at getting it right. Even if you get it wrong, nothing really happens, you just pick the other choice. Or in number recognition, you have to tap say, all the 4's as all these bubbles fall. You can tap ALL the bubbles, eventually getting enough 4's to pass the level. More negative feedback and overall reinforcement of the skill is needed. For example, you can get points taken away for tapping the wrong bubbles in number recognition. It's not that I like having negative feedback, but getting the answer wrong should be made clear to the child. Further, at the end of the levels, it could reinforce the skills by showing/saying for example, in the more or less game, that yes, there were 3 fish in this box and 1 fish in this box, 3 is more than 1. Little cues like this go a long way. Rating: 3/5 (aim for around 4 years)

Balance: The games are very kid-friendly. There are a lot of "extra" elements put in for entertainment, but not really at the expense of the tasks at hand. For example, when choosing which is more or less, you must tap on the box a few times to break the ice cube (the box is actually an ice cube, and you are rescuing what's in it). Most of the extra elements actually go with the plot, so they are actually nice little touches. However, I did find that sometimes I would accidentally skip some of the parts with the plot, but could not go back to have it repeat (also hitting the back arrow often exited me out of the app). So I lost some of the story. So maybe adding some element where you could go over plot points/goals, etc. would be nice. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: What I really like about this app is that there is this over aching storyline - however minor it might be. But it's nice to have that goal when going through many levels. They also kinda tie it in nicely with the actual tasks and "Stickery". Popping the bubbles, choosing the iceboxes all kinda "rescue" fish and passing the levels earns you fish stickers. It'd be nice if they took it even further and the stickers were the fish you "rescued" and you had to rescue x amount/specific fish along the way. That would really tie everything in together. And it would give the sticker rewards (which is something we often see in games) some meaning. Rating: 4/5

Parental Involvement: Parents can sign up to receive progress reports. While I've been seeing "progress reports" for parents more and more now, this is actually one of the better ones that I've seen. It includes explanations about the target skills and games and even tips on how to continue teaching these games with everyday activities. While this is great, I'd still like to see parents take a role WHILE their kids are playing, not just after. Rating: 4/5

Total: 15 out of 20: 4 stars

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Squiggles! was developed by Lazoo Worldwide, Inc. and is a drawing app aimed at preschoolers as most of what you draw are squiggly lines. You might be thinking, "All you draw is squiggly lines?!! What's the point?" Well, it's actually a cute app. After you draw the lines, which are part of a template of cars, or beginnings of cotton candy, you can set the picture in motion where the lines become the motion of the car, or the swirls of cotton candy. This is actually kinda a similar idea to my last review, Magic Doodles, but for younger kids. Also included is an e-book about an adventure with Miku and Bobu that of course involves squiggles. Price: Free (right now, at least).

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPad.Requires iOS 4.3 or later.

Developmental Appropriateness: As you can tell from my intro, I was a little skeptical at first, but I think this app won me over. It's a nice way to encourage young kids, who may not be able to draw much yet, to draw and be more imaginative for what they can create than on straight up paper pencil. The e-book is pretty cute too. I actually wonder why it is not a larger part of the app - it actually can be pretty easily missed. On the main menu, there are two icons - one for an instructional animated video with Miku and Babu for what to do in the drawing app and how to make your squiggles work and then the book, neither icons are flashy. I'd almost even say the book should be the prime, and the drawing is the activity tied to the book. That being said, although much of the book has to do with squiggles, I wish more of the interactivity was for the reader to make the squiggles that functioned as part of the plot so that it's more of a hands-on book. In terms of the drawing app, it's pretty kid-friendly, easy-to-use. If the target is 2-3-year-olds, I'd even make the tools at the bottom bigger. Rating: 4/5 (aim for around 3 years)

Balance: The overall feel of the app is very kid-oriented with plenty of instruction. Some of the features in the e-book are more frivolous than others. Like I mentioned, it would be great if it could incorporate some of the interactivity of the drawing part. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: The story is cute, and the drawing is fun, so it's a great deal - kinda like two apps in one. You can also save your drawings and share with others. Rating: 5/5

Parental Involvement: Although there is not quite a direct role for parents, there is plenty for them to do - read the story together, help with the drawings and use them as conversation starters, etc. Given the young age this app targets, parents will likely have to be involved as well. Rating: 4/5

Total: 17 out of 20: 4 stars

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Magic Doodles

Magic Doodles was created by G S Phinest and is a drawing app that brings your drawing to life. So if you like drawing say, rockets, this app will let you draw the rocket AND launch it. Price: $1.99

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPad.Requires iOS 3.2 or later.

Developmental Appropriateness: Ok, before you think, "Another drawing app" (and I admit, I did), this one is actually kinda cool and worth checking out. It takes kids imagination to another place by encouraging them to think about action or an event - something that can become a video/animation rather than a static image. This app provides an idea or prompt, such as "What's hatching out of the egg?", or "Draw a knight and dragon." with some parts drawn already. You draw the rest and then it animates it. So the egg will hatch and whatever you've drawn will grow or the knight will slay the dragon. The down sides are that it doesn't read the prompts, so younger kids may not know what to the prompts are. Also, the area that will animate may sometimes be limited and not capture your whole drawing. Rating: 4/5 (aim for around 6 years)

Balance: The overall design and interface is fairly simple. Again, adding in narration of the prompts and maybe some indication of the animation area would be helpful. Rating: 4/5

Sustainability: There are 26 prompts so there's plenty to try out. I wish there was a free play page with some simple tools for animating things, so kids can explore their own ideas. Rating: 4/5

Parental Involvement: Parents may find this cool, but overall, kids will probably play on their own. Younger kids will need some help. Rating: 3/5

Rating: 15 out of 20: 4 stars.

Disclaimer: I received this app for free for review purposes.

Monday, April 9, 2012


Happipets was created by Happi and is considered a spelling app. But this is no straightforward spelling app - it requires a lot of imagination as the task is to take the letters of an animal, say, lion, and use those letters to form a lion (see pic and video). Can you find the letters in the lion to the left? Price: $1.99

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPad.Requires iOS 4.3 or later.

Developmental Appropriateness: OK - first let me say, that as an adult, I think this app is kinda cool. It's amazing to see what people can think of and to see how someone thought to make these animals out of letters. Now that being said, I don't think this app is all that beneficial to learning letters or how to spell animal names. Keep in mind that I rate apps with more of an educational content perspective. Kids have trouble seeing two things at once. You know those pictures that can look like both a duck and a rabbit? Well, kids can't see both. So here, they are suppose to see the letters AND the animal - I'm pretty sure the letters will get lost, especially as they rotate and change the size, etc. I did a study using the Curious George book where the letters are shaped like animals and objects. Super cute. I personally really like the book. But the results were that 3 and 4 year-olds could not recognize these animals and objects as letters even when we pointed it out. Some 5 year-olds could, but it wasn't until 6 that they could consistently recognize them. So same thing here. I guess maybe this is meant for kids who may already know their letters, but are learning to spell. I definitely would not recommend this for teaching preschoolers letters. Still, for older kids, the task is about making the animal shapes, and that's probably what they will focus on. The letters could be anything. I think this app would work better if it wasn't about letters and spelling at all! There are nice little facts about each animal - it doesn't read aloud, so this app would definitely be for a reader. Maybe it should presented as just an app about animals and creativity. But it's not, so.... Rating: 2/5 (aim for around 7 years).

Balance: All the letter manipulation distracts from the letters themselves. The letters are initially presented in order, but once you start moving them around, that's it. So the spelling of the animal name is not very present. Ok - so let's say this isn't even about letters. Making the animal shapes requires a lot of imagination! I didn't even know where to begin. There is a help function that shows you the end result, but maybe some more step by step help would be better. I don't want to know just the end product - some hints to help get me started would be nice too. Rating: 2/5

Sustainability: I think a very small set of kids may like this app. But mostly, I think kids may just get frustrated at not knowing how to make these animals. There's a more free play mode, that some may enjoy more. Rating: 3/5

Parental Involvement: I think this may even be difficult for parents. Ok, I guess there's a little common sense, like a round letter would probably be the head or something like that, but it does take a specific kind of eye to figure out how these letters make the animals. So I'm not sure how much parents can help. But maybe they might enjoy figuring it out along with their child. Rating 3/5

Total: 10 out of 20 - 2 stars

Disclosure - I received this app for free for review purposes.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Sam and Ben

Sam and Ben was created by InteractBooks, LLC. It's a story about twins and celebrates their similarities and differences. So if you have or know of young twins, or even young siblings, this may be a book for you. Price: $2.99

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.Requires iOS 3.2 or later

Developmental Appropriateness: This is a heart warming story that parents can find useful to read with their child to highlight how everyone has similarities and differences, whether its with twins, siblings, or friends. So it's an appropriate subject matter. The illustrations are watercolors, which may be more appreciated by parents more than children. If your young child is not used to watercolor drawings, it may be more difficult for them to recognize some of the more abstract and smaller objects. Remember that research has shown that young children learn better from books with realistic than cartoon drawings. Rating: 4/5 (aim for around 3 years)

Balance: Although this book is meant for parents to read with their child, I'd like to see some more attention given to the text - like bigger font or text highlighting - something. There is sometimes quite a bit of text, so let's make some good use out of it, even if it's just bringing attention to it to improve print concepts for these young kids. There's a lot of hotspots - mostly related to the story. So again, given all the hotspots, the text can really just get lost. Also, there are activities at the end of the book and you can access just the activities from the main menu. I kinda like this, so that the activities are much of a distraction from the book, but add a little more fun for the kids. Rating: 3/5

Sustainability: Kids like stories, and there is even a bit of poop humor in this one. Kids will enjoy the hotspots and the activities may keep them coming back. Rating: 4/5

Parental Involvement: This is really meant for parents to read with their child. So ... Rating: 4/5

Total: 15 out of 20 : 4 stars

Disclosure: I received this app for free for review purposes.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Owl and Cat

Owl and Cat was created by De NitroLab. It is an e-book based off of a poem by Edward Lear. The first three scenes are available for free so you can see what you're getting, but to get the rest of the book is $.99. Price: $0.99

Device Requirements: Compatible with iPad.Requires iOS 4.3 or later.

Developmental Appropriateness: This e-book is a little different - it was designed to promote parent-child book-reading and so does note have a "Read to me" function. Parents or an older person must read this book along with a young child. What it does include is a nifty style of incorporating interactive features. You can move most of the objects/characters around and at the same time. So you can kinda act out the story or whatever else you want to do, creating a different kind of storytelling experience. The text really takes a backseat to the interactive features. While I understand, and like, that the goal is have a more creative joint storytelling experience, this is still a book-reading experience. Rating: 4/5 (aim for around 3 years)

Balance: So given all that you can "play" with, and the fact that the text is not straightforward and in more of a poem form, I'm afraid the text will just be lost. The text itself is pretty small on some pages and the font is harder to recognize for little kids. Rating: 3/5

Sustainability: I think the illustrations are cute and kids will like them and want to play with them. Hopefully, with some guidance, they can come up with many different scenarios to act out. Rating: 4/5

Parental Involvement: This is the strength of the app - that it really does require a parent to be involved and to really take part in the whole experience - not just read the text. Rating: 5/5

Total: 16 out of 20: 4 stars