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Flickr (Finally) Brings Its App To The iPhone

Posted by Rob LeFebvre on December 13th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Flickr has been a daily part of my life since it's inception as a live, real-time photo sharing community. They sort of missed the mobile boat, however, letting services like Instagram and Facebook take over mobile sharing from iPhones and the like. Today, that's all fixed, as Flickr announced its iPhone app, ready for you to take exploring with you.

Grouptime Combines Messaging and Social Networking

Posted by Jordan Minor on September 26th, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

The App Store has seen its fair share of messaging, email and social networking apps. The new grouptime app, from the start-up company grouptime GmbH, hopes to set itself apart from the rest by combining the best of these services into one. Grouptime is a new kind of mobile social messaging service.

Grouptime takes inspiration from three forms of online communication: text messaging, email, and social networking. The app allows users to send SMS-style messages for free. Users can also share content with specific groups of friends in email-style distribution lists. Finally, like with any good social network, users of grouptime can update their status and location, chat with groups, and instantly share audio, photos and other multimedia.

Grouptime boasts extensive privacy features as well as a "simplified user interface." Grouptime is currently available for free on the App Store for iPhones, iPods and iPads. An android version is currently on the way.

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Creative Genius on the Go Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on July 28th, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

Every summer, my family would get into the car and drive off to some destination chosen by my parents. In some cases, our destinations were days away, and we would spend a great deal of time in the car. Everyone would play car bingo, Twenty Questions and license plate scavenger hunt as well as sing stupid songs from TV shows and movies. Of course, my sister and I also fought and moaned, “When will we get there?” time and time again. With my own family, my two sons sat in the back seat and played with their video games or listened to music with their iPods. Now, children see movies in their SUVs and play games with their iPads and iPods. Some how, the interaction between the kids and among the whole family has diminished. Well, admittedly, there is still “yellow punch buggy,” to get some interaction going!

Remembering these family days in thc car, I was pleased to see the app Creative Genius on the Go. This app offers 150 different scenarios for everyone to consider: 50 “What Ifs?” that prompt the players to describe how the impossible may be possible; 50 “Imagine That,” which are mind-stretching challenges for boosting brainpower and relieving boredom and screams from the back seat, and 50 “Wack-tivities,” or silly diversions for when everyone is tired and can’t wait to stop at a hotel and get something to eat. Here’s an example of one of these silly ones that still make you think: What if cars had feet instead of tires? How would traffic change? What products would be obsolete and what other ones would have to be made? What other changes would take place? What would this car look like?

Here’s a more thought-provoking question: What if you lived during prehistoric times? What would you wear? What would be your activities? How would they be different or the same as now? Would you like living during this time? These questions can be answered as a group or, one player can write a response on the attached notebook.

Besides the fact that I appreciate this app because it can be enjoyed by several people at a time rather than just one person attached to an electronic device, I also am pleased with the creativity and problem-solving skills it offers both children of all ages and adults. Learning and creativity should not be something that comes to an end after the last years in college. It needs to be continually fostered. Activities such as Creative Genius on the Go stimulates new thoughts and ideas. There are an unlimited number of ways that these questions can be answered. It encourages the players to really stretch their minds. With the prehistoric question, for example, it could easily be answered, “I would live in a cave.”

Now, with imagination, the player can describe that cave and how people acted inside. What was it like during different seasons? What about at different ages? Can the players imagine a house where the parents and children ate, played, worked and slept in the same room? Such questions can also move to the here and now and encourage communication among the family. What about the fact that the two brothers, who are playing the game, are sharing a bedroom? What benefits or disadvantages does this offer to them? How can they get along better in their room? Thanks to these developers for making players actually think rather than just react to a crazy bird.

Topo USA Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on July 26th, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

Either in the higher elementary school grades and/or middle/junior high school, your children will come home with that dreaded homework sheet saying, “Learn the location of the states and their capitals.” I say dreaded, because most of the children do not want to learn them, and you will have to drill them for days to remember all the names and locations. If you already have gone through this routine, you most likely agree with me.

This is why many teachers, who are on the more creative end, will try to come up with a special song or game or, most traditionally, flashcards, to help the students memorize all this information. Geography is not typically a highly enjoyed subject at this younger, anyway, so kids need something to give them some motivation—even if’s a Jeopardy-like game or contest.

The Topo USA app provides students with some of this entertainment and motivation. It’s the same information to memorize, but perhaps a little easier to take the medicine in an app game form. The app tests location of states, state capitals and large cities. A plane flies over the U.S. at varying speeds set by the player and is directed by the player’s finger location on the screen. Flying speed is important: Flying too slowly makes it difficult to complete the task before the time is up, and flying too quickly makes it more difficult to maneuver the plane from one location to the next. Since the plane flies at an aerial level, the player is only seeing part of the U.S. at a time, which also adds to the difficulty. Hints are given, but that also slows the players down.
I was never good at geography or direction. My family knows if I tell them to turn right, they turn should turn left. Perhaps this would have helped me—probably not! In fact, I am embarrassed to say that I did not do well with this game, either. Some of the state and city locations I remembered very quickly. Others I didn’t remember as a kid and I still don’t remember.

This game will help your children learn the location of the states, but not the spelling. Since the names are on the screen, spelling becomes a moot point. For that, you and your child will have to go back to the traditional method of recitation: “What is the capital of Kansas?” “The capital of Kansas is Topeka—T O P E KA—Topeka.” There are some things that are just going to be boring and dreaded in education, and this is one of them. It’s possible to imagine the young boy or girl in the New England one-room schoolhouse spelling each of the names of the 13 colonies. It was surely much easier learning the states then, but not any more intriguing.

Color Buddies Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on July 14th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Color Buddies is an interesting app, because it combines skills for different ages at the same time. In fact, preschoolers, even in the easy mode, would not be able to do this game by themselves. They could easily find some of the colors when hearing the word, such as “Select color yellow.” They are not going to know some of the other colors at sight, such as “maroon,” or “indigo,” for example. Also, they are too young to read the color of the words or even sound them out. Thus, this color activity is for first or second graders to do by themselves or for younger children to do with older children or adults. This is possible, in fact, since the game calls for either 1 or 2 players.

In addition to reviewing the standard colors and learning some new ones that are not used as frequently, this app teaches a couple of other skills. The first is graphing. Remember the aptitude tests where it was necessary to put certain icons or words in various parts of a map or chart? The square would be divided into four equal parts. On the top two squares left to right you see the numbers “1” and “2.” On the left top and bottom, you see the letters “A” and “B.” You would be asked to put a circle in the 1A area, or the top left quadrant. The easiest mode for Color Buddies is the square divided into four sections. The hardest is a rectangle divided into 25 different boxes up to E5.

You choose from a variety of different topics, such as zoo animals. Then you are presented with a blank screen divided into the number of different quadrants. The female narrator (with a very bland but easy-to-understand voice) asks you to select a certain color of paint. When you have done that correctly, she asks you to put that color in a certain box, for example, 1C. Then part of that box is colored. Slowly, as you find different colors, your picture builds up. It is fun to guess what the final picture is going to be as parts of it are colored and become more and more visible. This is a great cognitive test. Once again, the older children will do better filling in the missing parts in their mind than the younger ones. Perhaps once the adult or older child knows what picture is being drawn, he or she can give clues to the younger player.

Color Buddies is not as mindless as some “shoot down the balloon” games, so expect that your children may need to give some serious thought to their response. The narrator nicely tells them to “try again.” They are going to be challenged and will need help. After a while, however, they will get the hang of it, depending on their age and cognitive abilities, and enjoy the challenges.

Yoku-Gami Review

Posted by Nick Papageorge on July 8th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Yoku-Gami is a game that represents, to me as a parent, everything that is right in the app store, in relation to games for kids. It's a puzzle game that looks and plays like a standard match-3 game but is, in reality, anything but.

It is designed by the great mind of Reiner Knizia, a German board game designer heralded for his simple designs that lead for complex gameplay. Being a fan of his, I jumped on Yoku Gami and it's been a game my daughters and I have enjoyed immensely, and I feel happy in knowing that they're not just playing a mindless game, but instead are really working their brains as they play.

The entire goal of the game is similar to match games, clear the tiles. But how Yoku-Gami works is this: "If the greatest number in the group equals the total of all the other numbers in the group, you have a successful turn". So if you select a 3, 2 and a 5, your 3 and 2 equal 5 and you remove those tiles and get a score. That score is based on how many numbers are in the group and if you create groups of 5 or more numbers, you then get a bonus.

There are 3 different modes. Endless is just that, it continues until you can go no further. In Arcade, your goal is to clear a whole role or column of numbers, the game also ends when you can go no further. In Level Mode you try to clear as many numbers in each grid. You start with 24 levels, and at the end of each level when there are no more turns, you lose as many lives as there are numbers left. You gain lives when you create groups of 4 or more. As long as you have lives, you continue progressing in the game.

I was incredibly surprised with how far my 6 year olds got in the game, but for some reason, they were able to go quite far for their age and math skills. I know they are a bit young for it, and it isn't a game they can play for hours, as the difficulty does continue to ramp up, but they have enjoyed what we do play together quite a bit. As well, a nice touch to make it kid-friendly, is that good old "Yoki" is always there to tap on and get a hint from when needed.

If you have a child that might be struggling with math, or one that loves math and just wants a fun way to put his/her skill to the test, I honestly believe Yoku-Gami is a stellar choice. I'd never want to leave a child in front of any gaming system for hours, but this really is an honest-to-goodness learn-while-playing gaming that does exactly what it sets out to do, and I do not doubt that it will certainly be a help to those kids who struggle with math.

I'd also like to make it clear that it is equally great for parents. As silly as it might sound, I've seen an honest increase in my math skills through playing it, and honestly that's worth the price of entry right there. All-in-all, Yoku-Gami is a hidden gem that I wish more people knew about, and I hope you enjoy it as much as we have.

abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz Review

Posted by Nick Papageorge on June 22nd, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Yes, the name of the app I'm reviewing today is the entire alphabet. From this point on, I'll refer to it as abcdefg for the sake of my fingers.

I stumbled across this app thanks to the title, it initially seemed like a unique way to learn the alphabet and practice word sounds, but I soon found it was that plus a lot more and it turned into a favorite of mine and my daughters very quickly.

Upon opening abcdefg and hitting play, you're presented with a simple and easy to access play field. The alphabet is split into 2 halves, one on each side, running lengthwise on your device. At the top 4 different words: "Gravity", "Crickets", "Vehicles" and "Birds". At the bottom are 5 buttons, "Recycle", "Arrow", "Bomb", "Camera" and "Info". Honestly, this is all that you need to know to get started.

Simply take a letter from either side and drag it into the middle of the screen. When you let go, the letter will go off on its merry way. When my daughters first grabbed it, they dragged a few letters and nothing happened. Once the letters hit the edge of the screen, everything changed.

With gravity (the option selected by default), the letters simply move with your device. Each time the letters hit an edge, the "sound" of the letter is played.

Vehicles zip around the screen, making sounds as they move. Crickets skitter and make sounds when they group up together. Birds is the most diverse, with varied sound, tempo and pitch depending on where/how it's placed.

As each letter moves, it leaves a unique trail behind it, making a visual representation of the soundscape you, I mean your kids, are creating and it's easy to stop a single letter, group of letters, erase the whole picture or take a snapshot of the insanity using the buttons below.

People might dismiss abcdefg, but if you look closer at what the app actually provides, I think you'll find that it's an invaluable tool for kids. In the app, you're a conductor of sound, and you learn concepts like pitch and tempo. You also get a quick into to physics, seeing how the different letters move and interact with each other, things you don't often see in "kid" apps these days.

While abcdefg is no replacement for music lessons, it allows children to draw outside the lines of music and just perform these strange experimental mini-concerts with letters. Some of the things I've heard my daughters create simply blow my mind. They have to experiment in combining sounds together, finding ones that match in tone, pitch, whatever to create an appealing and melodic sound. They also end up with these crazy pictures of letters strewn everywhere. They get to interact with art in a way that I've never really seen, at least not in this medium.

I can honestly say that I think any kid would benefit from putting their hands on abcdefg, even if it's just to increase familiarity with the alphabet and word sounds. Beyond that, it's an introduction to physics and a way for kids to create experimental soundscapes, by simply placing letters on a screen, turning that into honest to goodness music.

For the price and for the features offered, abcdefg is much more than a simple novelty. It's an app that I recommend for kids and adults of any age. It's never too early (or too late!) to make crazy music and pictures. I look back in regret, wishing that I'd have had something even close to this as a kid, it might have gotten me that much more interested in creating and experimenting with music and sound.

Moo, Baa, La, La, La Book Review

Posted by Nick Papageorge on June 9th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

I'm going to come right out and say this. I love Sandra Boynton. To me, she is the most prolific children's story writers to come out in this generation, specifically for younger children. I put her alongside Dr. Seuss and Robert Munsch, and that's high praise.

"Moo, Baa, La, La, La" is produced by Loud Crow, the makers of the PopOut! book series (Peter Rabbit, Night Before Christmas, etc). Their books have been showcased by Apple for a reason, they are top notch in quality and production values. Designed to simulate a real "pop-up" type book, they include characters that spring when you touch them, tabs that move various parts of the book, and windows, doors and such that open and close. It really does give the books a tactile feel, and I honestly believe these books have more interactive elements than most on the app store.

It's clear that "Moo, Baa" is a silly book. It starts out normal, with a cow saying "Moo", a sheep saying "Baa", but the next page you lift up a curtain and it's 3 singing pigs saying "La, La, La!".

Like with most books in the app store, you can choose to read it yourself or have "The Big Guy Read it" for you. This book has an especially special narrator, Sandra Boynton's son, Keith (trivia fact, Sandra's middle name is Keith).

Inside, interaction ranges from touching Rinos to hear them Snort and Snuff, pulling back dogs like a slingshot to send them running at 2 cats saying "Meow". As the dogs leap after them, they leave their collars behind to hang in mid-air, a very cute touch.

Like most "board books", it's short, coming it at about 12 pages, but it's no slouch. Each page offers so much to the touch, almost everything you see does something, even if it's as little as a sound. My daughters spent probably twice as long enjoying the pages, the interaction, the art and the humorous sounds as they did of just the story. Hearing them laugh while touching each of the singing pigs at the start never gets old.

Now, the story itself is probably targeted to younger children around the age of 1 - 4, because of its simple language. The sentences are simple and they mostly consist of animal sounds except for the last of the book. It's a magical ending and one that will yield different results for everyone who reads it.

I would like to make it clear that even though the book is designed for younger children, you don't have to be young to enjoy it. My daughters are 6 and it is still one of their favorites. Because they're now fairly advanced readers, they're able to read the entire story easily and without having to struggle. In the path to learn how to read, I find this is far more important than pushing kids to read longer words before they're ready. I figure they'll probably be done with the book in a year, but between the physical book and this, I've gotten an easy 5 years out of it, not a lot of books that have that kind of staying power.

So, is "Moo, Baa, La, La, La" worth your $3? Yes, yes and yes. It's a simple story that's an amazing read for children, especially ones who are very young. It scales to older children who are learning how to read, and allows for easy comprehension. The app design is great, and the interaction is one of the best on the app store. You owe it to yourself, and your kids, to check it out.

Tilly's Petting Farm Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on June 8th, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

With Tilly’s Petting Farm, we are back to the farm again. There is some regret here. I do like some parts of this app, as you will see below. I would just like to have some different venues for children’s apps besides the zoo and farm and something different for them to see than animals. How about looking at buildings, or plants or vehicles? With that said, this app does teach the children about the animals on the farm and their purpose. They learn that cheese and butter are made from milk, for instance.

There are four different scenes of the farm, some with different animals. The children are either asked to point out a certain animal, “Where is the cow?” or something about what they see, “Where do you find the eggs?” When the children tap on the right answer, they are given a positive answer. When wrong, they get several more tries with clues. The animal artwork is cute and colorful, as is the animation. I also like the fact that the children need to answer questions, which teaches listening skills as well as vocabulary. The narrator even says, “Pay attention,” before asking the question.

Overall, the app is easy for a preschooler to use. A toddler is going to need more help. It’s just a tap on the right answer. In some cases, it is difficult to see the item; the hay, or what is called “dried grass,” is way in the distance in one farm setting, for example. When learning about each animal, there is a good amount of variety in the animation and the answers. The app developers say that there are 300 sentences or questions included in the app, which provides greater variety as well.

The narrator has an easy-to-understand English accent. If you speak American English, you will find some differences in the words and the questions. For example, instead of “Where is the male goat?” the question is “Where is the man goat?” The narrator asks, “Which plant is shaped like a cigar?” This question is not cross-cultural. For several reasons, you should do this app with your child the first time around. First, there are many new words, such as “buck” and “heron.” Also, some of the questions can be tricky, such as “Where is the female goat?” It is difficult to tell if the baby goat is male or female. When it asks, “Which animal brays?” I would have liked to hear the bray. You may need to make some of these sound effects.

Tilly's was a favorite Dutch app when it was first introduced. Your children will learn some new facts that are not typically included in farm apps, such as different birds like “heron” and “crane.” It’s a good way for you to talk about some of these new words, animals and activities taking place in a farm setting.

The Going to Bed Book Review

Posted by Nick Papageorge on June 7th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

"The Going to Bed Book" is one of two Sandra Boynton books available on the app store (the other is "Moo, Baa, La, La, La") and like "Moo, Baa" it is a fantastic book with top notch production value that takes a great story and adds some unique and wonderful interactive elements, making it a joy to read both as a parent and for our children.

"The Going to Bed Book" is produced by Loud Crow Interactive, the makers of the PopOut! series (Peter Rabbit, Night Before Christmas, etc). Loud Crow has been featured in the app of the week as well as New And Noteworthy because they're fantastic. They are designed to simulate a real "pop-up" type book, with characters that spring from the page, tabs to move back and forth, windows/doors to open. It really does give the books a tactile feel, and I honestly believe there is more interactivity in their books than almost any on the app store to date.

As with most of Sandra Boynton's books, they are very silly, and "Going to Bed" is no different. It's a story about a boat full of about 10 animals getting ready to go to bed. You get to follow them through quite a few different activities to get them there, starting with scrubbing them clean in the bath to scrubbing their teeth in the sink.

This interaction in the book is similar, in a very good way, to the PopOut! book series. There's not a single page that's left out from interaction. You can tilt your iPad and it'll swing a chain that's hanging, you can touch on an animal and they'll bounce like they're on a spring. Another you touch will squeak, moo or make some other sound. I hate to spoil this, but it's too good not to talk about... At one point in the bathroom, you get to turn on the hot water tap and very slowly and subtly, it starts to fog up the entire iPad screen. It's terrifically realistic and once it's done, you... I mean, your kids, get to use their fingers as a squeegee to clean off the screen. Yes, it's silly, but it's a really nice touch.

The story is about 13 pages long and allows you to either read it yourself or "Have the Big Guy Read It". The narrator is perfect as his voice is deep, warm and inviting, like the perfect grandpa. With the narration off, you can touch on each of the words to hear them spoken aloud, something I find important in the path to learning how to read.

On that note, the language in the book is very simple. There is more of a complete story here than you'll find in "Moo, Baa", but the language is still very easy to understand and comprehend. I'd still say the age range for the direct target would be 1 - 4, but I can confidently say that this would be a hit for children as young as 6 months to as old as 6 or 7 years old. My daughters still absolutely love it and I believe they will at 7, a testament to the quality of the story and humor.

It is clear by now that I'm smitten with these books. But it's not that I'm blinded by the author, if the books weren't good I'd be the first to say it. But they are good. No, they're great. They're experiences that shaped my daughter's early years of reading, and I hope that you'll find they do the same for yours, too.

Halli Galli Review

Posted by Nick Papageorge on June 3rd, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

I know, Halli Galli is probably one of the silliest names for a game on the app store, but I urge you to look past that and spend some time with a simple and incredibly fun set-collection card game for the entire family.

I have to say that this is one of the most frequently played and one of our most requested. Its execution, while simple, provides flexibility that will work as a great challenge for adults, but is easily played with children as young as 3 years old.

Halli Galli is broken into 3 modes, and although the goal in each version is to collect all the cards, how you go about it varies. In each game, you have a split set of cards, and each turn one card from every player's deck is placed on the board. When playing against other players, it's a race to ring the bell, and I'll explain further how each mode works below:

Junior mode - Our MOST played mode and the most accessible mode in the game. In this mode, you watch the cards until you see 2 smiling clowns that are of the same color. If you're wrong, you give one card to each other player. If you run out of cards, you're out of the game and the first player to collect all the cards, wins.

For more complex playing and for older kids and adults, the other 2 modes are great.

Classic - In this mode, each card is of a type of fruit and has a specific number of fruits on each card. Once you see a a set of cards that totals exactly 5 fruits of one kind you ring the bell. The same rules for Junior apply for winning.

Extreme - This is where it gets really complex and challenging. The cards deal faster than other modes, and you ring the bell when you see 2 identical cards or when a monkey appears and there are no lemons, an elephant appears and there are no strawberries and when only a pig appears. Another difference is if you're wrong, you "Go to Jail" and your cards get placed under the bell. The next round you win, you only get your jail cards back. Lose a round while in jail you're out. Everything else is the same.

Each version has 3 different modes. Arcade, Single Player and Multiplayer. With Arcade, you're the only player and if you're wrong, you lose 3 cards (there's no Jail in Extreme). Single Player pits you against 4 computer players with 3 difficulty levels and Multiplayer allows you to play with 2 - 4 people.

I have had so much fun playing this with my 6 year old twins. Huddling around the iPad makes you realize just how perfect a platform it is for these types of games. And it's great, you don't have to set up any cards, you don't have to worry about the bell not working, or someone missing hitting it. You just get to really bond as a family and play a unique and fun game.

I also think it's an excellent educational tool that will get your kids (and you!) to really learn to focus your mind to watch for matches, and is a great way to improve your reflexes and hand-eye coordination.

I cannot recommend Halli Galli highly enough, it's a game that will grow with your family no matter how old they are. And most importantly at the time of this writing both the iPhone and iPad version are on sale for $0.99. You can't even buy a plain deck of cards for that price!

Ricochet Kids Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on May 25th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

There are a number of different categories of apps available in the marketplace for children: Games, just for fun. Educational, like 123’s. Music, singing and dance. Art, coloring and sketching. And, stories for reading and listening. Then, there are apps such as RicochetKids, which are a compilation of games, stories or, in this case, videos.

The parents who built this app for three- to eight-year olds, decided it was much safer to find some of the best YouTube videos and put them on an easy-to-use app than having your children online where they could stumble upon some not-so-kid-friendly sites. So, they reviewed a slew of kid-friendly videos and handpicked the best ones for their app. Each one is safe, so you can download the app on your iPhone or iPad, hand it over to your child without any fear of seeing anything inappropriate.

This is a great app for driving in the car or at the end of the day when things are winding down and it’s time to sit and relax for a few minutes. There are a number of different categories, so your children can easily pick what’s of interest: Animals, Cars & Trucks, Cartoons, Dora, Music, Movies, Transformers, and WB Kids to name a few of the 22 different channels available. New free videos will be added regularly. Actually, I found more on this list than I do when going through my 100s of cable TV stations! (No surprise!)

Which brings up another point: Some of these videos on RicochetKids are for the kids to sit and watch. Other ones, however, you can snuggle right up with your child and play, read, or learn along. This is especially the case, of course, with the larger iPad screen. You can enjoy some good old “Dr. Seuss,” “Clifford” or “Franklin,” sing along with some of the songs, learn about different animals or letters, or laugh at some of the just-for-fun quick hits.

I do think that the age of eight is stretching it a bit. Personally, I would say most of the videos are more for the younger kids. The only other question, and again, this is just my quirkiness: Why did they choose an “R” for the app icon? I know the name is “Ricochet,” but “R” now does often equate to adult-rated movies. I said it was “quirky”! I would have designed it differently, so that parents can automatically know it is a kid-friendly app that has a lot of fun “G” videos for viewing.

The Day the Music Stopped Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on May 16th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Some children’s apps are a breeze to review, since it’s easy to write about all the wonderful things they offer. That’s exactly how I feel about The Day the Music Stopped. The developer of this app, Juno, already received accolades for its Juno Baby Musical ABC’s. Now it added this delightful app for toddlers and preschoolers. These apps demonstrate what really can be accomplished for iPhones and iPads with state-of-the-art technology.

When your children enter the 3D world of The Day the Music Stopped, they will meet Juno and Rai Rai and have time to interact with different items in Juno’s room. Then, it’s off to musical Harmonia Springs with the other cute puppet characters--Bunny, Buzz and Indie. When Murphy describes his new invention the "shush machine," Bunny presses the red button on top and all the music in the town comes to a halt. (If a button says, “Do Not Touch!” you know your preschooler will touch it!)

Now it’s up to your children to bring the music back with entertaining and musically educational activities. The founder of Juno, Belinda Takahashi, a PhD of music, composed the music in the app, which is played by a real live orchestra. Each of the activities teaches a different aspect about music. At the lily pond, the frogs, like a barbershop quartet, teach harmony, and the birds on the fence, which looks just like a musical staff, help the children create their own song either on their own or with a song provided. (Soon to come will be a game that teaches rhythm.)

One of the things that makes this app so delightful, besides the colorful animation, is that it is a story, as well. Many apps are just separate activities that have a theme, like the alphabet or animals, but do not go beyond these activities. With the Juno apps, your children meet new characters, become part of their story, and bring back music to Harmonia Springs. Of course, the other very special aspect of this app is the music. How many times do your children listen to the actual instruments of an orchestra being played instead of coming from a music synthesizer? Then, they can actually learn how to make their own music.

In most cases, the children’s apps created for the mobile units and tablets have not at all been on par with computer CDs and DVDs. Here is an app that clearly shows what can be accomplished with the technology available and should be used as a role model for many of the apps now in the marketplace.

Papa Penguin Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on May 10th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

If you are going to get an app called Papa Penguin, of course you have to learn some new facts about penguins. Your children are more than likely going to ask, “Why is Papa penguin feeding the babies?” “Do only fathers feed the babies?” “Where’s the mother?” “Who takes care of the babies?” Did you know that penguin chicks (I had forgotten they were called this) cannot care for themselves, and they can only survive with their parents’ help? The male emperor penguin stays with his one egg while the female gets the food. All the time that the father penguin is protecting the egg, he does not eat anything but ice. If the egg hatches before mom returns, the male can produce a curd-like substance from his esophagus and feed his baby chick. Once the chicks are hatched, the moms and dads both feed the chicks with regurgitated (have fun explaining that!) food. And, among all those baby chicks, the adults can identify their own by its distinctive call. All human mothers and dads know they can do this, too.

Now it’s time to actually play the game along with its nice and mellow music. The chicks are crying because they are hungry. So, it is necessary to send Papa Penguin off to get some fish for their next meal. Your child moves him around in the water, gobbling up the fish and the bubbles of oxygen and then returning him with the fish to the starving chicks within a time deadline. Of course, just as in real life, there are many things to watch out for when catching those fish. There are different levels with varying challenges, such as seals and polar bears. Each new level increases speed and offers new risks. I’m not so keen on Papa dying or the kids starving when the time runs out or after hitting too many obstacles like poisonous jellyfish, but I guess that is nature at its worst.

Admittedly, just like any other game, it does become addictive. It’s important to keep those penguin babies fed and the new ones hatched. And, of course, the chicks are just like human babies and kids: As soon as dad returns with the fish after his dangerous trip into the sea, the chicks immediately eat up the food and demand more.

For younger children, the iPad is much easier for manipulation. On the smaller screens, it can be difficult getting away from the dangers and catching the necessary fish and bubbles for oxygen. Now, there’s another question you’ll need to answer. How long can a penguin go without breathing?

Toddler Toy Factory Review

Posted by Sharon Cohen on May 4th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

What child would not want to make toys? That’s what I thought when I saw the name of this app. The app, itself, offers a number of different coordination and cognitive skills, but the title is misleading. The author says it was approved by his/her own toddler. Well, that toddler has a lot more ability than mine ever did! I would actually call this “Children’s Toy Factory” app rather than “Toddler” Toy Factory, because it has more abilities at the level of preschool and even kindergarten than toddler. In fact, the memory game in the “hard” mode could even be played by an older child or adult—admittedly, my memory is not the best, but I even had difficulty remembering where everything was in the “hard” mode. Best for a toddler’s age is the counting in the “Ship” room. I like the music that accompanies the app, it’s whimsical, and the sound effects add to the app’s entertainment value.

The Toddler Toy Factory does offer a good selection for long playing and learning time, and I like the fact that the child can advance upward from the “easy” mode as the skill is acquired in two of the rooms. In the first room, “Make,” the child reads the letter on the left hand side of the screen and chooses the correct letter from mixed up letter blocks on the right hand side. Then the letter is dragged over, so both letters match and then dropped into the toy machine. As each letter is dropped, it spells a word and out pops the toy that is spelled. The word is repeated, so the child knows what was made and how it is spelled. This is not an easy concept, either, and parents will need to explain it to the child. As the toys are made and piled on the factory floor, they can be tossed around and then back into the machine, if desired.

The “Find” room is an old-fashioned matching game, which is always fun and great for memory skills. The children will most likely be on the easy mode for some time. As the correct matches are made, the toys are dropped to the floor. Once again, they can be tossed around or put back into the machine’s spout to clean up the room. The toys are added to a number counter up top when the go back in. Adding a voice over counting the toys as they go in would add another counting skill. In the “Ship” room, the children drag and drop toys from the shelves into a barrel for shipping. The numbers are counted out loud until the last one is ready for shipping. The “easy” to “medium” to “hard” mode increases the number of items, so larger numbers are learned.