Tag Archives: ipod

underwhelmed by kindle

If I’m going to epub a book, I need to be able to see what it is I’m selling.  So I got a kindle.  Actually, I cashed in a bunch of amazon rewards points and got a kindle for $14.  But now that I actually have one, I must report that I’m really not that impressed.

Let me back up and say I adore ebooks.  I read kindle books on my ipod all the time.  I love paper books, too, and I’m sure if we removed the weight and structural support of my floor to ceiling bookshelves, and just the stacks of books everywhere, our yurt would fall down.  But ebooks are wonderful and my ipod is full of them, so of course, I was psyched to finally be getting one of these kindle thingies.  Woo hoo, thought I.  I’m going to love this.

But no.  What is this gray thing?  Gray words on a gray screen?  This is the wonder of e-ink?  It sucks!  They make all this fuss about “You can read in direct sunlight!” but the truth is, you can’t read on it unless you’re in direct sunlight!

Kindle e-ink makes my eyes bleed.

I can’t believe how bad this is to read on, when all the hype is how nice it is.  Who are they kidding?  Do I just have a bad one? It’s gray on gray, who thought this was a good idea?

Okay.  A couple of years ago when the whole “download books in under a minute, whispernet, take hundred of books with you in your pocket, woo hoo” was new, I would have adored the kindle.  As it was, I fell head over heels for my kindle-for-ipod.  But I think the kindle itself is a device designed to hold the hands of people making the leap from paper books to digital—and I have already made that leap.  I have no problem reading on a screen, in fact, I often prefer it (no light source needed in the middle of the night, for example).  I already grok the whole ebook phenom.  I don’t need the training wheels a kindle provides.  And my kindle for ipod gets all the good bits of the kindle, with none of the grayness.  The kindle concept rocks.  The kindle itself, for me, not so much.

It does have a nice feel in my hand.  Maybe if I get some kind of clamp-on light it will be better.  But it still won’t give me evernote (for the random, writerly, thoughts I tend to get when I read, typed or voice—evernote is the BOMB), or games to distract the kids with (thank god), or movies when I’m stuck waiting for aikido class to finish (my guilty pleasure).  And while you can listen to audible books on a kindle, why would I do that when having the tiny ipod in my pocket is so much easier then the relatively bulky kindle?

While I love ebooks, and adore my kindle-on-the-ipod experience, I guess the kindle-device-itself peaked for me before I got one.  I have been reading on it a little.  In bright daylight.  And seeing my own book on it, as I get the copy-edits back from the copy-editor, that’s pretty cool.  It’s not a total loss.

But I’m glad I paid $14 bucks for it.

ipod touch games for little kids, part 3

Time for another game of What’s-On-Our-iPod!  First I’ll just say that our ipod touch remains our most beloved game platform, over the ps2, the nintendo DS, and running neck and neck with the PC only it probably wins because it has the added advantage of being mobile.  As I’ve said before, I had no idea when I bought this little thing that I was buying a gaming machine, but gaming turns out to be one of it’s primary uses in our household, for our primary gamers, Luc, almost 5, and Sophie, 6 1/2.  Here are some of the games they are most interested in these days…

(My first list of ipod/iphone games for little kids is here. My second list is here.)(Oh, and I’ve put a link when appsafari lists a certain game, if you want to look at reviews.)


Food Games

These games are so cool.  There is no winning or losing, and some people may not, as a result, even call them games.  But since the kids are clearly playing when they do these little activities, I’m calling them games, so there.  What am I talking about?

More Toast! Cupcakes!  Cakedoodle, More Sundaes! More Salads! Etc.

We have a bunch of these.  Basically, you cook something, you decorate something with a myriad of toppings, and then you eat it.  That’s it.  Sounds like something that would last a few minutes, right?  Well, it turns out that decorating and eating cupcakes or waffles or toast or tacos is endlessly interesting to little people.  These games have stayed in constant usage for months.  Sometimes they want to make the most beautiful (fanciful, gorgeous cake decorating or funny faces made out of vegetables in a salad bowl), or the most seasonally appropriate, or the most silly (sardines on your pancakes, anyone?), or the most outrageous (thirty scoops of ice cream on your Sunday, for example).  When you eat your creation, by touching the screen, there is an audible crunch crunch sound and each touch takes out a bite-shaped chunk.  The kids love this.  Highly recommended.

Plants vs. Zombies.

I’ve written before about our love of this game on the pc.  Well, it’s fun on the ipod touch, too.  This is just a terrific game.  Don’t hesitate.

Angry Birds

This is a funny game, very engrossing, where you fire bird of differing capabilities into a puzzle/maze structure to get some greedy pigs.  Sound silly?  Of course it does.  But the puzzles are cool and the solutions funny and surprising  And the kids, Luc especially, and Paul, come to think of it, can fall into this game for a quite a while, figuring out solutions and strategies.  Great game.

Pottery

This is another process over ‘the win’ game.  Basically, you make pots, that is, you draw clay on a wheel up into whatever shape you want, fire it, and glaze it.  You can see the pots to buy more and different glaze patterns, categorized by location, say, Greek vase patterns vs. Japanese or Celtic or Egyptian, etc.  Or you can keep your pots in a big collection.  No winning or losing, just this semi-meditative pot creation.  Sophie loves this game.

Pocket God

This game makes the kids giggle like maniacs, all the while they are interacting with this world, problem solving and making stuff happen.  In this game, you are an all powerful god to a group of funny little villagers.  You can be benevolent or wrathful, you can do whatever you want.  You can help the little people fish or swim or you can feed them to the sharks and strike them with lightening.  There is a TON of stuff to do on these little islands and the game is very open ended.  Slingshot villagers into the volcano!  Make a passing pelican poop on a villager’s head! Make the villager pick his nose! Cause the fish to be biting and let the villagers all get a good meal, then maybe whip up a tornado or a tsunami and wash it all away.  This may sound destructive and harsh, but, as a previous addict of the ancient game Despair…

…where the only activity was doing terrible things to a bunch of tiny stick figures (oh my god, I loved that game) I understand the appeal of all-powerful destruction.  It’s just pixels, no actual villagers are harmed in the playing of this game, and feeling powerful in a game is a great mood lifter.  It does not translate into destructive behavior, only better jokes.  That’s my experience, from myself and my kids, anyway.  Terrific game.

Some other games that have been in mild rotation lately are Yumsters 2, Ninjatown, and Fling. Some games I’ve mentioned before that are still getting played are Trace, iWriteWords (which recently added numbers, too. Luc loves this game.), and Blowfish.

Have fun playing with your kids!

how did people raise kids before ipods?

When did my ipod take over my life?  From first waking (I use it as an alarm clock, because why wake to anything other than a faint Tibetan Bell-sound-of-my-choice? ) to late night reading (an ipod comes with it’s own, adjustable brightness, reading light, and you can easily hold it, and turn pages, with one hand, not to mention it has a bunch of books on it so I don’t have to get up to get the book I want—it’s the perfect nighttime reading device) my ipod is in use around here on-and-off, 24/7.  But hands-down, the number one user around here is not me.  It’s the kids.  Honestly, it’s hard to imagine a more useful parenting tool.  Besides just, you know, being a kinder person.

Some examples:

  • We’re out in the woods, the kids are having a great time, I’m starting to get bored…whip out the ipod and read. Or listen to a podcast of which I have many backlogged.  Kids get to stay longer and I’m not pulling my hair.  Win!
  • We go out to eat and the food is taking forever to arrive.  To the ipod!  A game of Animal Match or Blow Fish among the group of us, passing it around taking turns, and everyone is happy again.  The food arrives before you know it!
  • Actually, any situation involving waiting, a nightmare with bored little kids,  is improved by the addition of a well stocked ipod.  It’s boredom busting per square inch power is unbeatable.
  • Here’s a good one: we’re in the car for too long, one of the kids is getting agitated, give them the ipod!  They listen to some music or a book and calm right down.  Sophie, who gets carsick easily when looking at a screen or a book, especially likes to listen to books in the car. Car rides and ipods are a perfect combination.
  • I mentioned reading at night but wake up in the middle of the night, kids wedged in on both sides of me, and the ipod becomes even more useful. I can’t sleep, but I can’t get up or I’ll wake them up.  The horror!  Instead, reach overhead, grab the ipod.   Silent, dim, quiet, it’s perfect for not waking your sleeping companion(s).
  • Here’s a huge one: we’re going about our lives and a question pops up: do mosquitoes have ears?  What’s the biggest snake in the world?  What’s playing at the theater down the street?  What’s the weather supposed to be later?  What was the story of the Green Knight?  This must happen a gazillion times a day.  Ta Da!  Ipod provides the answer in seconds, as we have a nice wi-fi field around the yurt that goes right on out into the yard and the Noah House.
  • Speaking of wi-fi, our favorite grocery store has wi-fi and the other day we were shopping and decided on the fly to make some pesto—but what goes in it?  Ipod + internet dished us up a recipe in a second.  Not to mention my grocery list, also on the ipod, that the kids add to.  Jelly beans!  Apple juice!  Mac and cheese!  Ah, the staples of a kid diet.
  • Or this one: yesterday, Luc woke up particularly early and couldn’t sleep, but I wasn’t ready to get up (one of my rare non-getting-up-to-write mornings and he decides to wake up early, why? why?) so I gave him some headphones and his favorite movie and he quietly and happily watched Land Before Time, snuggled in beside me, while I slept another hour.  Bliss!

I could go on and on.  Either for my needs or theirs, our ipod is an essential item around here.  I can honestly think of no downside to the kids.  They use the ipod as a tool for fun, intuitively and indiscriminately.  They also spend loads of time running around in the woods, playing with goats, swimming, visiting friends, making things—it’s a full life.  Enhanced by the addition of quickly available, colorful, interactive, games, books, movies, and music.  All kept, ready-at-a-moments-notice, in my pocket.

We don’t have an ipad at the moment, but I imagine we’ll get one of the later generation ones.  Touchscreens are instantly accessible to a small person and a bigger screen will be even better for various things, for example, drawing, something the kids love to do on the ipod  Also, more two player games.  Perfect!  I have two kids!  Plus, books with pictures, comics, and watching movies, etc. etc.  Not pocket-size, but I imagine it as an around the yurt, in the car, item more than a carry-it-always item. Both, not either/or.  As homeschoolers, particularly, I think an ipad will be a wonderful device.

When I remember how bored I was so much of the time as a kid…this painful, grueling boredom.  Man, I would have LOVED an ipod!  So many games and stories, so much art to make, so much delight, all wrapped up in one toy.

It’s a good time to be a kid, if you ask me.

i just read about the new apple tablet…

…and nearly wet myself with my geekgasm!

(It’s the one in the middle, between my beloved ipod touch, and my also beloved macbook. It’s a triumvirate of apply goodness!)

EXCEPT WHO THOUGHT OF THAT STUPID NAME???? I mean, really. iPad??? It sounds like something you use when you’re on the rag. Ew. What was wrong with iTablet? Or iBook? I like both of those names. Can we just collectively refuse to call it what apple wants to call it and rename it? In the name of everything good and holy, people! Please!

Name aside, this thing looks AMAZING. I adore my ipod touch, use it for everything, even reading, which I never thought I would. The (oh, I can barely stand to even type the name) iPad (ugh! ugh!) I am certain will just pick up where my ipod leaves off, fulfilling all my multi-media creation/consumption needs in one giant fireworks display of geek delight!

Oh, wait a minute, I have to, um, clean up this drool puddle. I must have left it there while reading gizmodo‘s coverage of Steve Jobs talking tech revolution.


“The revolution will now be apple-ized.”

How embarrassing.

So, anyway, I’m putting my spare change in a jar as we speak, to save up for one. By the time I get six or seven hundred bucks, they’ll have gone to 2Gen, worked out a few bugs, and hopefully have changed the name.

I can’t wait!

Updated the next day: I just read a little more about this thing and I have to admit, my adoration-from-afar is just growing. I honestly think this one is going to blow the roof off the publishing industry. And it looks gorgeous. Poor kindle. Kindle gets kudos for going first, but the iPad is in another class altogether. And of course, it is much much more than an e-reader w/ebook store built in. I am so impressed.

ipod touch / iphone games for little kids, part 2

A while ago, back when I first got my ipod touch (how did I ever live without it?), I wrote a post about gaming on the ipod with my kids. (ETA: for part three, go here.) At the time there seemed to be very little out there on games for little people, and few games they could play. As with everything in the ipodverse, this has completely changed. Now there are TONS of games for little kids. Clearly I was not the only one to realize how awesome a platform it is for small folk!

Anyway, I was purusing my google stats the other day and noticed that that old post gets tons of traffic from google! I thought to myself, hey, self, there are other parents out there, trying to sort through the millions of ipod apps. Lets write a follow up! So here you have it, a parent’s quick review of nineteen more games for the ipod/iphone, as enjoyed (or not so much) by a five year old and a three year old. And a thirty eight year old. Ahem.

Get ready, get set, GO!

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Blowfish —For those of you in a hurry, I’ll start with our most popular game (though the rest will not be in any particular order). Blowfish is a very simple game—you hold your finger down on the screen to create, and inflate, a puffer fish. Meanwhile, spiny sea urchins careen off the boundaries of the screen. If you’re inflating a fish when the urchin bounces into it, the fish pops. Ouch! The goal is to cover 70% of the screen with fish. Each level increases in difficulty with the addition of one more bouncing urchin. Both the kids love this game. Heck, I have a good time playing it, too. Maybe it is the funny faces the fish make, or the strategy of containing the bouncing urchins with fish bodies. Who can define fun? Thumbs up.

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Tamagotchi —This game is extremely cute. The art is funny and adorable and engaging and that makes us want to like this game. But the game design leaves something to be desired. Not an intuitive game. And hey, I’m happy to read intro’s and directions, to sit and play with the kids when a game requires it (although most of these games do not), but even reading the instructions, it is really hard to figure out what we’re supposed to do. We spend a fair amount of time poking things and trying to figure out what the games wants of us. Not good. Having said that, the game engaged us for longer than some of the very simple games that I would call a success. It’s definitely got some good parts. For example, the kids think it is hilarious that you can get the tamagotchi to poop (s/he sits holds up a newspaper, and is all happy when s/he finishes, lol). But a game should not be frustrating. Maybe future updates will fix some of this, but for the price, I’d say pass.

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Skyburger and Scoops —These are separate games but very similar: food falls from the sky and you build an increasingly high, wobbly, creation by tilting the ipod to catch it. Burgers or ice cream cones, both are enjoyable, and the tall tale of ice cream cones that reach to the sky or burgers as tall as sky scrapers, is amusing. Both the kids play these games regularly.

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Aquaglobs —This is a fairly intricate puzzle game where you draw connecting lines between like critters, while keeping different critters from running into each other. You lose a life each time there is a collision and the goal is to stay in the game as long as you can, until you’re lost all your lives. It’s too hard for Luc, but Sophie is intrigued by it. We tend to pass game along. Luc starts the screen while it is very easy. He hands it to Sophie who manages for a while. I take over when it gets too hard, so this game works for me, too. Then it gets too hard for me and I die. Game over and we start again. Sophie says this one makes her brain work. Thumbs up.

Now for a theme, three Japanese-styled games.

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iBonsai —Is a lovely ‘game’ where you grow a 3-D bonsai tree in a minute. As it grows, it grows away from wherever you put your finger, so you can direct it and shape it. Once it’s done growing, you can rotate the image to see it from any angle, zooming in and out, and shaking the ipod to make the leaves fall off. Beautiful and intriguing. When we first downloaded this one, Sophie sat and grew trees for about an hour, totally engrossed. I think it took her that long to try all the variables. She’s only picked it up a few times since then. Luc will grow a tree or two and then he’s done. Thumbs up.

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Tanzen —This is the classic tangram puzzle with an elegant interface. Luc likes it a lot. Sophie hasn’t been interested, but then Luc is my puzzle guy. He adores jigsaw puzzles, tangrams, anything where you fit pieces together. He has a bit of trouble with the interface (rotating the pieces is a two fingered maneuver that he can’t quite manage) so we tend to play this one together. I would guess that as his fingers get more agile, he’ll be more interested in this game. Thumbs up if you like tangrams.

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Zenbound —This is a very intriguing game where you wrap string around a wooden carving by rotating it in any direction using two fingers. The string puts paint on the sculpture and the goal is to cover the sculpture 80%. The art is detailed and lovely, and the controls are complex but intuitive. Sophie likes this one. She got up to a level that was too difficult and quit playing, but recently I noticed she was playing it again, starting back at the beginning. The controls are a bit much for Luc. I played this one a bit when we first got it until the spinning of the object when I rotated it made me feel a little nauseous. Paul says I have a delicate constitution, har har.

Now for some drawing programs.

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Trippingfest —This is a very cool drawing program that Luc adores. You can make all kinds of crazy patterns and effects. I recommend clicking through to peek at some screen shots to get the idea of it. Sophie, who likes to draw representational images, doesn’t care for this one as much. It’s more for abstract images, which are more up Luc’s alley. I don’t have much more to say except thumbs up.

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Cartooning for Kids —This was a great app providing two afternoons of step by step drawings of funny cartoon characters. The kids really enjoyed it. Both of them sat down and worked through the whole thing in two sessions, side by side.

Here they are, ipod between them, listening to creator Richard Galbraith’s friendly Aussie voice explaining how to make a funny snail creature.

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And here is Sophie making an angry duck.

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Mr. Galbraith has such a supportive attitude as he takes them one bit at a time into the details of making cartoon faces “come alive.” Luc, who sometimes is quite shy about how his drawings don’t come out as ‘fancy’ as Sophie’s (the cross of the younger sibling is always to compare oneself to someone who is more developed!) was really able to stay with it and do his own drawings, which I found delightful. And I’ve noticed that some of the lessons have stuck—Sophie has been using eyebrow angles and pupil sizes to put certain emotions into her drawings lately, and I think it came straight from this app. It hasn’t gotten any repeat play—I think once they went through it, they were done—but for your entertainment dollar, as terrific bargain! Many thumbs up.

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Spinart —Sophie loves this one, Luc likes it. It’s exactly like the spinning machine that you drip the paint into, except, you know, no paint. Quite fun. You can also draw with splattery paint lines without spinning it. I had a spin art thingy when I was a kid—I don’t remember getting to use it much though. I think we ran out of supplies and didn’t restock or something. Anyway, this is just about an intriguing as the live action version, not quite, but close. Thumbs up.

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Doodle kids —Finally, we have this one, a very simple drawing app that Luc likes to play with pretty regularly. It offers a black screen and when you draw with your finger, you get ‘lines’ that are made out of multi-color shapes. You shake the ipod to get a fresh screen. Luc loves to write his name in glowing shapes. “Look, Mama, L U C!” This game has the distinction of being created by the youngest ipod developer in the world, a nine year old boy in Singapore, a fact the kids like. Makes me wish he had charged .99 cents for his app, instead of offering it for free.

Now for one more theme, so called ‘educational’ games. I usually avoid these because they are often incredibly boring, pedantic, and condescending. But here are three that got some play around here.

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Cutemath —This one has a half dozen little number-related activities. Sophie played it through and has actually returned to it a couple of times. Luc just got interested in the counting games, but isn’t interested in the adding or subtracting activities. Sophie has never been forced to “do math” and so it’s all a game to her. I explained ‘plus’ and ‘minus’ in about one sentence each and showed her on my fingers, and that was enough. She went off and played for awhile, enjoying the animations that go with the math.

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iWritewords —This one has lively graphics inviting you to trace the shapes of letters to form a word. Luc really liked this for a while and still will play it when an update has provided new words to trace. After you trace all the letters, you tilt the ipod to ‘flush’ them down a whirlpool drain. He likes that part. Sophie really learned the letters from Sesame Street, but I would credit this game as the source of Luc picking them up. Thumbs up.

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Dot 2 Dot —For a while Sophie was really into dot-to-dot books, so of course I went to see if there was an app for that. There is. Dot-2-dot is basically a dot-to-dot book with about twenty patterns to solve, and a handful of colors to draw with. Once you’ve drawn them all in, you’re done. For a buck, it’s twenty minutes of entertainment and number recognition.

Okay, enough of the schooly stuff. Back to some games!

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Flyloop—This game has pretty pictures and pretty music and involves drawing a loop around like-colored butterflies. It’s fun. Too hard for Luc (those butterflies are fast!), but Sophie has played and enjoyed.

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Kooleido —This is a cool looking kaleidoscope that creates repeating image patters of your choice (hexagon, rotating, ten point start, etc) out of many beautiful photos. The best part, though, is you can use your own photos. The kids had a ball one afternoon making kaleidoscopes of their own faces. “Look, here’s one with only noses!” You get the idea.

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Topple 2 —This is like tetris with faces on the blocks. Only you don’t have to fit the pieces together, just pile them up. Only watch out, the physics of the game will cause the blocks to slips and fall, tumbling over if you don’t place them carefully. The early levels are a blast for the kids, but after about five or so, it gets too tough. Time to restart. Luc can’t do the block rotate, so he’s less interested, but Sophie gets into it every now and then. Thumbs up.

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Triazzle —This is is a really fun puzzle game, where you match the sides of triangles to each other. When you get them right, the butterflies and frogs animate. It is a beautiful game to look at, and you can dial the puzzles in to the exact level of difficulty you want. Including very simple for kiddos. Sophie loves this game. I get into this game, too, in that way that solving a puzzle can be relaxing and challenging at the same time. Definitely recommended.

Some games we’ve tried that went bust for us are Frogger (too hard, too fast), Wild West Pinball (too hard to figure out when to flip the flippers, too static, maybe), Mazes (if you could draw the solution, this would have worked, but tilting the ball was too hard), iGlow (nice idea, but they were done with it in about a minute), Colorama (too hard to get the colors where you want them), Toki Tori (I’m not sure why this one didn’t catch on, it looks cute enough. Sophie says it was boring.) and Puzzlings (boring, boring).

Well, there you have it! Happy app hunting!  (See more of our ipod touch game reviews here.)

accept the change that has already happened

The app store clocked over 1 million downloads for the new skype app on it’s first two days. Wow. That’s a lot of downloads. And I was one of them—I called my friend Priscilla this morning on my ipod touch using the new app. It was great, extremely clear, free. Why wouldn’t I use it?

Which, I’m sure, is what is making AT&T go batshit as it watches people use fewer phone minutes, in favor of talking over their wifi connection. Well, not me—I’m on an ipod, not an iphone. But still.

And I really don’t know the ins and outs of the communication industry but AT&T sure looks like a thousand pound gorilla, jumping up and down, saying, “It’s my ball, you have to play my way!”

Which, in turn, reminds me of the publishing industry whining about ebook DRM, or the authors guild going after the Kindle’s text-to-speech feature, or the television networks still using live-tv ratings to make their programing decisions. The entrenched folks want to hold on to what they’ve had, the way they’ve had it. Scarcity thinking. Old school thinking.

They don’t seem to realize that they’ve already lost it. The digital age is going to be over by the time these big industries figure out the game has changed, is continuing to change, and at light speed.

Look, it’s done, people. Move on. You can’t make folk use your product on your terms when someone else has invented a better option. Sorry.

14 ipod touch / iphone games for little kids

We are all about the games around here. Board games, card games, yard games, video games, computer games, dice games, make believe games, you name it. We are an equal opportunity game household.

But I had no idea when I got my spiffy new ipod touch that I was buying a gaming machine. I think I was still in old school ipod thinking that classified the device as a player of music and books. I had in the back of my mind that playing games on an ipod was like playing that dim, black and white version of tetris on the 1.5 inch screen of the cellphones of ten years ago. But that is not the case. An ipod touch has a big, boldly colored touch screen, coupled with an accelerometer, and creative people the world over have figured out a lot of ways to put that combination together in fun, surprising ways.

Bottom line? My kids dig my ipod as much as I do.

But it’s tricky to find games for little people. Most of the games for the ipod are too hard, or move too fast. I looked and looked for a list of good kiddo games, but found very little. So I decided to make my ow list. So, here are 14 ipod touch / iphone games we’ve found that fit the criteria of being fascinating and fun, as well as providing enough scaffolding for little people, new to gaming, to latch onto. I’ve linked each to an App Beacon page, so if one of these sounds good and you want some screen shots, poof, you’ve got it.

Here we go!

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Ancient Frog—This puzzle game is gorgeous and very engaging for me, as well as Sophie (5). Luc (3) likes to fiddle with it, but he’s a bit too small to actually play the puzzles. The game involves wallking a brilliantly rendered frog to a target location, by lifting his feet, one at time, in the fewest number of moves. When he gets there, he gets to eat a fly. Sophie is totally engrossed in this game right now, as I’m typing this.

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Animatch—A memory match game, with animals (and animal sounds) on the cards. Luc loves this game. Sophie will play sometimes, or play partners with Luc, but it’s a bit easy for her.

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Aqua Forest—This game is hard to to explain. It’s a physics engine, with puzzles. Or you can go into a freeplay mode and just fool around with the water, ice, explosive powder, gel, fire, earth and metal. Sophie calls this ‘doing experiments.’ You can draw with water, say, and then tilt the ipod to slosh the water around on the screen. Or add some fire and watch the water evaporate into steam. Or add some explosive powder and blow up the screen. Or…. The puzzles are fun, basically solving some situation in order to get water from here to there. This is probably Sophie’s favorite game of all of these.

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Bejeweled 2—This game is famous. You get a screen full of colorful gems and you try to move them around to get three in a row. When you get three, those dissappear and more gems fall from the sky. Luc can’t really play this one yet, though he likes to fiddle with the pretty pictures for a minute or two sometimes. Sophie grooves on this one, though. She loves to play it in the car.

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Create a cartoon face—This game makes them both giggle. Basically, you assemble a funny cartoon face from a bunch of components (heads, eyes, noses, etc.). They like to make the silliest faces they can come up with. This game would be improved by MORE options, especially silly ones. They like to play this one together.

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Garf This is a sound memory game, just like the old Simon game where you press the buttons in the order they are played to you, one more tone each turn. The first dozen levels or so are doable for Sophie and she loves to play it with me. After that it starts to get a bit too hard for her.

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Jigsawed This is a great jigsaw puzzle program that uses preloaded photos, or photos from downloadable sources like National Geographic, gorgeous shots. Luc really likes this game. It will cut the puzzle into as few as nine pieces, which is good for him. Sophie likes sixteen pieces, and loves picking out new pictures.

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Knots This game is like twister for your fingers. One player or two. It’s called knots because you end up with your fingers all twisted together. Lots of giggling.

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Kyodai involves clearing pairs of cute little figures, when there is a clear path between them. It took forever for us to figure out how to do this game. Use the ‘hint’ button liberally on the first few screens and watch the little sparkly line that zooms between the pairs when they clear to see what ‘clear path’ means. It’s a lot easier to see it, than to explain it. Sophie is very interested in this game.

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Mazefinger—This game produces mazes, very simple at first, that you trace with your finger while lightening and special effects appear to burn the maze up behind you. You have a certain amount of time to complete the maze. Both the kids are into this, but the time factor makes it harder, and sometimes frustrating for them. If there was a ‘timeless’ mode, they would love it.

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Sneezies This is a chain reaction game. You sprinkle sneezing powder on some cute little critters and they start sneezing, which makes the critters nearby sneeze, and so on. You try to clear as many sneezies as possible with a single dose of powder. Luc likes this game. Sophie played it for five minutes or so and then was done.

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Tic Tac Toe—the old classic, a bit boring for me, but fun for Sophie when we have to wait, say, at a restaurant. Luc doesn’t quite get the three-in-a-row concept yet, but Sophie does and she plays a cutthroat game.

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Towersmash—You build towers of any shape by dropping blocks out of the sky, and then you knock your towers down by firing marbles into them from the side of the screen. The physics of this games are surprisingly realistic and satisfying, with tipping blocks that slide or don’t, depending on how hard they get hit, etc. Both kids adore this game, squealing in happiness when they fire off the marbles. It doesn’t hold Sophie’s interest for very long, though. This is more for Luc.

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Trace—They both like this game, though Sophie sticks with it a lot longer. This is a puzzle game, where you try to walk the little stick figure guy to the exit by drawing (with your finger) paths over varied terrain, chasms, cliffs, underwater, up plants, etc., while avoiding floating geometric shapes that send him back to the beginning. Very simple graphics. And maybe it sounds too simple, but both kids love to try to solve the problems, working on a level over and over, trying different solutions, until they get him through.

Okay, that’s it.

Some games we have tried that haven’t gone over as well because they were too hard, or required action too quickly, or under time pressure, are Rolando, DoodleJump, Brick Breaker Revolution 3d, Labyrinth, Enigmo, Cowabunga, and DizzyBee. Two games that we tried but the kids weren’t interested were Superpoke Pets, and Butterfly Catch.

I hear a lot of parents talk about electronic games being bad for kids, or how they struggle with limiting game time. That just makes no sense to me. I don’t limit games or limit the kinds of games, as long as everyone is having fun. Kids are built to learn. They suck in the world non-stop. And they do it through play. Just like every other mammal. Watching either Sophie or Luc engage with these puzzles games, I can just see their brains just bristling. And the giggle games are like medicine to my ears. If the kid was playing chess, I bet parent’s wouldn’t worry—but because these games are pixels instead of wood, they gets dissed. I just don’t agree.

Hmmm. Maybe I’ll do a post on that, but it will have to be later, because right now I’m being tapped for a game of Candyland, or ‘Candy Landy’ as they call it.

The chocolate swamp is my favorite.

ETA: for part two of this list, go here.  ETA again: for part three of this list, go here.

three wearable computers, SF comes true

My recent experiences with my new ipod touch have demonstrated to me how satisfying and convenient it is to have the information and solutions of a wifi computer with me, all the time, in my pocket. But, even with it’s sexy design, hunching over a 3.5 screen ain’t ideal. The information is there, but the need has to overcome the inconvenience of whipping my ipod out and squinting at it. Still, totally cool. But—

There is another way, and it isn’t far off.

Wearable Computer #1—Vernon Vinge describes some extremely cool, wearable, computers in his near-future SF book Rainbow’s End.

In the world he imagines, computers are right in the clothes, activated and driven by a keypad at one’s waist, and, more often, by body motions, shrugs, hand gestures, muscle contractions. If you are really good with your computer, you can appear to be siting still, but be surfing, texting, gaming, etc. But where does the information appear? Not on anything so public as a monitor, but rather, special contact lenses that give the wearer an overlay of information and graphics, as per their request. For example, walking down a grocery aisle, the wearer would see floating boxes of information, ratings, whatever kind of information the viewer wanted about the products in sight. Or, meeting someone could include a quick, private google search. Terms that come up in conversation can be quickly researched for relevant definitions and context. And the games! Think, full color, 3D, graphic overlay that the user walks through and interacts with, linked with other players who are ‘seeing’ the same thing you are. The possibilities are endless.

Rainbow’s End was most interesting to me in its descriptions of life with these wearable computers. Several other interesting ideas, such as a sentient AI, or the mental dangers of JITT (Just In Time Training, such as learning Cantonese, or Neurobiology, in a week), are woven in to a rather clunky plot and so-so characterization. But I found it totally worth the read for the near-future vision.

Wearable Computer #2—World Builder, an amazing video short by Bruce Branit, imagines a holographic computer interface that is both beautiful, and seamlessly integrated into the users natural gestures. The story will also give you goosebumps. Check it out:

Wearable Computer #3—This one is realworld, 2009, an invention by Pattie Maes & Pranav Mistry: a wearable computer that runs off the smartphone so many people already own, a projector, and an image recognition camera. It is clunky, and totally a work in progress, but it is ASTONISHINGLY close to a working version of #1 and #2. I had a total geekgasm watching it. Now you can, too. Observe and let your mind be blown:

This stuff is not far off. My kids will be using them. It’s another instance of SF successfully imagining (and in doing so, perhaps creating?) the future. I mean, if society as we know it doesn’t collapse first. I hope we make it!

there’s a butt-load of apps for that

What’s that peeking out of the special ipod pocket of my knitted purple furry monster felted ipod bag?

Why, it’s a 2nd gen ipod touch! That’s right, after dropping hints like anvils as my birthday approached, I received enough amazon gift certs and cold hard cash for me to succumb to my inner geeky desires.

Perhaps by knitting a pocket that was just waiting to receive it’s new tenant, perhaps just by thinking of ipods as I knitted each stitch, I cast an Ipod Manifestation Spell that the universe just couldn’t resist?

Whatever. The real thing is, this thing is so cool!

Guess what I did last night? I went out and identified constellations with StarWalk an ipod app that shows beautiful, clickable, renditions of the night sky, for my location and time, with a handy red screen feature for not blowing your night vision. No kidding!

What did I do this afternoon? I made a voip call to New York, on my ipod (yes, ipod, not iphone, that wasn’t a typo) using Fring and Skype.

What did I do just before a short car trip day before yesterday, when Sophie was pissed and didn’t want to get in the car? Downloaded Bejeweled 2 for her and watched her spend the next fifteen minutes entranced with figuring it all out. “Mom, I got a power gem!” “Cool, honey bunny!”

I’ve also made voice recordings while driving (stuff about the novel I’m working on) using iTalk, read the first three chapters of Pride and Predjudice using Stanza, and most of Coraline using Iceberg, drawn a picture and emailed it to a friend with Sketches, and played tic tac toe with Sophie.

And, of course, I’ve listened to music, audio books, surfed the web, approved a blog comment, and watched a you tube video….

And I’ve only had the darn thing for a week.

That last one, the tic tac toe game, was a bit of a lark: Sophie said, “Play tic tac toe with me?” and I said, “Hey, let’s try something,” and whipped out my shiny new ipod. Within two minutes we were playing paperless tic tac toe, with fun sounds and funny graphics. Sure, we could have used paper and a pencil, and I’m not saying paper and a pencil is obsolete or anything, but it was cool, and a fun test of what is becoming apparent to me about the whole ‘app store’ phenomena. If you have a need, there really is probably an app for that.

Only that’s not really true, because, what they really have is a whole butt-load of apps for that. I had to make a quick decision among a half dozen tic tac toe programs. And any of the above programs have gobs of competitors, some free, some a buck, maybe one or two for a couple of bucks. So far, any time I’ve thought of it and, for curiosity or real need, checked the app store, there was a solution. Need a quick I Ching reading? Find a map of the dismal swamp? Say something in Italian? Video on making an omelette? Entertain the kids for a minute in the grocery line? There’s an app…well, you get the idea.

It’s a whole different way of thinking about software. Instead of the emphasis being on the software, the brand, the advertising, the product, the emphasis is on my need in the moment. I can just focus on being in the flow of my life. And software isn’t something that I do at the computer. I barely think of it as software at all. I just get my need met. Cuz, it’s all about ME, baby.

And, perhaps, in part, because there is no physical item to produce (a box, a disk, a manual), the cost of these apps is so tiny, the risk in trying them out is tiny, too. So, try them out, I am. So far, I haven’t been disappointed.

I’m telling you, the Swiss Army, with their fancy knife, had NOTHING on an ipod touch.

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