Why toys and apps have failed

The Wall Street Journal, on why apps and toys are yet to succeed with kids (subscription required):

“Last year, trying to show how the toy industry could remain relevant in the tablet age, Hasbro Inc. HAS +1.44% unveiled an iPad-enhanced version of its classic Game of Life. Instead of spinning a wheel in the center of the board game to take a turn, players spun a wheel on the iPad.

The idea bombed.

And it wasn’t alone. More than 90% of the so-called app toys that were trotted out last year sold poorly, estimates Jim Silver, editor in chief of timetoplaymag.com, a consumer and trade website. Among the other flops, Mattel Inc. MAT +0.40% outfitted Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels cars with special conductors to control games on a tablet.”

Two years ago we bought the Disney AppMATes Cars toy for my kids. It’s an iPad app the presents the world of Pixar’s Cars, which players explore by “driving” plastic, conductive cars across the iPad’s screen. My kids discovered almost immediately that the game works with their fingers and stopped using the car pieces entirely. Now it’s just another iPad game.

It felt tacked-on and even a 7-year-old could sense that. If this is going to work (and I’m not convinced it has to), game designers must think of something completely new. Read the full Times article here.

Paper books and kids

monsterattheendofthisbookPatrick Rhone makes a great point regarding ereaders, paper books and kids. He and his wife want to demonstrate their love of reading to their daughter. The couple owns a lot of ebooks, but staring at an electronic display is no clear queue that mom/dad are reading a book:

“The books we actually read, the majority of any reading we do, are mostly on screens now… [but] we could be doing anything on the screen. And she knows it. She knows the Internet is sometimes on that screen. She knows that movies are sometimes on that screen. She knows that games and music are on that screen..How is she to pick up the physical cues that Mommy and Daddy read a lot of books?”

That’s a great point. So, Patrick is going to make an effort to read more paper books, so his daughter can see mom and dad reading. Well done.

Now, excuse me while I switch into Curmudgeon Mode.

I don’t like electronic kids books. At all.

I worked as a teacher from 1994-2000. Back then, “interactive books” were popular. Some featured a strip of sound effects buttons that were to be pressed as the story was read. I despised those books because the students treated them as toys that just happened to have books attached. Some even pulled the buttons off, disregarded the book and walked about making random sound effects.

Living Books by Brøderbund were also popular back then. They shipped on CD and featured read-along animations based on popular titles like Arthur and Dr. Seuss. I still have that damn Just Grandma and Me memorized, right down to Little Critter’s inflection. The problem with Living Books was that nearly every object did something; click a crab to make it snap its claws or click a bus to hear its engine rumble. They were toys masquerading as books.

The “book as toy” phenomenon migrated to the iPad with digital children’s books. I’ve purchased a few for my own children (ages 7 and 9) and found the experience disappointing. Instead of listening to the story, my kids only want to “see what it does,” randomly tapping, swiping and flicking every image. When they find an interactive element, they go nuts — swiping, tapping or flicking it repeatedly. At that point, we aren’t reading. We’re playing a video game.

I know there are several decent interactive books for adults available, and that’s fine. But ebooks for kids that “do stuff?” No, thank you. My daughter loves the Harry Potter series. We do play around on Pottermore, but despite the fantastic ebooks available, we read of Harry’s adventures in paper exclusively.

Reuters and iPad display production

“Polly want a post!”

Much of the tech web is parroting a report from Reuters that claims Sharp has “nearly halted” production of 9.7-inch screens intended for Apple’s iPad. Unfortunately, the story is full of bunk.

The first paragraph notes that production has “nearly halted.” That’s dramatic:

“Sharp Corp has nearly halted production of 9.7-inch screens for Apple Inc’s iPad, two sources said, possibly as demand shifts to its smaller iPad mini.”

That contradicts a statement in the very next paragraph:

“Sharp’s iPad screen production line at its Kameyama plant in central Japan has fallen to the minimal level to keep the line running this month …”

“Minimal level” sounds like it’s within normal operational boundaries. That’s a big difference from “nearly halted.”

What would cause an adjustment in production? Reuters suggests it’s consumer demand shifting to the iPad mini, though really, they have no idea at all:

“The sources didn’t say exactly why production had nearly halted. Among the possibilities are a seasonal drop in demand, a switch to another supplier, a shift in the balance of sales to the mini iPad, or an update in the design of the product.”

Also among the possibilities are plate tectonics, string theory or Godzilla and Mothra fighting it out in the parking lot. Or even Apple CEO Tim Cook, who brilliantly managed Apple’s supply chain before assuming his new role, is doing more of the same now. For all we know, Apple has amassed a stockpile of these things and doesn’t need a pre-holiday production schedule anymore.

So let’s all just relax and stop repeating whatever people familiar with the matter have to say.


Ink for iPhone, iPad review

photo 1Minimal Tools has released Ink, a sketch app for iPhone and iPad (free, universal). It’s Minimal Tools’ second app, and is as bare-bones as its sibling, Pop. Ink lets users create a black-and-white sketch immediately upon opening the app, which can be saved, shared or deleted with only a tap or two. It’s fast and to the point. Here’s my look at Ink for iPhone and iPad.

UI and Use

Launch Ink and you’re presented with a white screen. That’s the point, really. There’s no login to fiddle with or tags or categories to create. As soon as Ink launches, it’s ready for you to start drawing 1. To begin, put your finger or stylus on the screen and get started.

Ink is definitely a “minimal” tool. Black is the only ink color available. There’s also just one thickness, no speed sensitivity and no erase or undo. As such it’s much like sketching on a piece of paper. Honestly, I would like an eraser, as an error means starting over.

When you’re done, you can either save the result to your device’s Camera Roll, share via email, Twitter or Facebook or clear the page and start again. There are a couple of ways to do this. First, you’ll find a small handle in the lower right-hand corner of the active page. Flick it up to save the current sketch to your Camera Roll and open a new page. It’s pretty nice to do that in one swipe.

Double-tap on that handle to bring up the iOS share sheet (or shake the iPhone). It offers access to email, Twitter and Facebook as well as the Camera Roll, a print option, a copy option and finally a button to clear the current sketch without saving.


Ink’s developers aimed to create the digital equivalent of a “back-of-a-napkin” experience, and I can say they succeeded. Ink gets right to the point and stays out of the way. Those looking for a no-hassle way to capture digital sketches ought to check it out. Here are a few more screenshots.

Main screen, ready for your sketch.
Main screen, ready for your sketch.

Quick driving directions.
Quick driving directions.

Flip up to save and create a new sketch.
Flip up to save and create a new sketch.

Sharing options.
Sharing options.

  1. I am NOT good at drawing.

Fisher-Price shits on your child’s imagination


There’s a point at which you’ve gone too far with the damn iPad. Look at this abomination from Fisher-Price. God, maybe let three-year-olds think and imagine instead of zoning out and tapping buttons. Gizmodo writes:

“Tiny fields of imaginary wheat have been replaced with an iPad dock and the Little People Apptivity Barnyard companion app. Available sometime this fall the playset still includes a handful of Little People characters and animals, but they’ve been ‘enhanced’ with capacitive nubs on the bottom allowing them to interact with the iPad’s touchscreen display.”

Ridiculous and offensive.

Ink for iPhone and iPad

Minimal Tools has released Ink for iPhone and iPad (free, universal). The bare-bones sketch app is for “instantly capturing a rough sketch or back-of-a-napkin idea. The only features are smooth ink on soft paper with built-in sharing.”

I’ll give it a try this week. Look for a review in a few days.