This is more of an appendix to this short series, rather than another chapter. In part 1 I gave you a broad view on what designing apps for young kids means, what are the main pain points to be aware of, what UX best practices you should keep in mind. The second part was more about the business around such apps: what kinds of apps are out there on the market, what are the pros and cons of each of those and which are the most common business models.
As I mentioned at the end of part 2, in this third part I want to take a look at some products involving new “edgier” (not at all, actually) technologies and concepts.
If you read part 1 (and you should!) you might remember I said that digital products shouldn’t be used in place of “real toys”, but as a compendium to them, especially for educational purposes.
Augmented Reality (AR from now on) as come to mainstream use nowadays. Snapchat filters and Pokemon Go brought it to the masses and most of the smartphone users experienced some application of it, in a way or another. As of now, in my opinion, the use of AR has been mostly gimmicky, but there are some products aimed to kid on the market that made a very interesting use of this technology.
What is interesting is the how AR lets these products combine digital and analog play. Traditional kid activities such as coloring and drawing, building blocks and more, are at the core of these digital/analog products.
Children can go from a real life experience to a digital one seamlessly, in a way that was sci-fi a few years ago!
Besides AR, there are other uses for the camera. Some apps use it to “see” things going on on front of the device and receive inputs that get the things appearing on screen doing something. These products combine real objects with digital assets.
Other apps use the camera to scan things on paper and use them within the games in creative ways, like creating paths for digital balls to run into or creating skins for 3D characters to play with.
Let’s take a look at some examples, shall we?
Osmo is one of the first companies I’ve found doing these kind of products (I’m not saying the first one ever, just the first one I’ve stepped into, a few years back).
They have a pretty wide range of apps, most of them are educational. Subjects goes from math to art to language to coding. In part 2 I briefly mentioned how coding is a very hot topic in the educational products industry.
Take a look at this very cute video 🙂
Osmo sets are made of a plastic support for the device, another piece that goes on top of the device, that is basically a mirror to point the device camera on the table’s surface, and a series of other pieces, that change depending on the set you pick. All of this goes along with a specific app running on the device.
By manipulating the physical toys on the table, kids interact with the app on the device.
A very interesting one (even though it targets older kids) is Osmo Newton. This product is all about physics, particularly gravity (the name should be a pretty obvious hint). Kids can draw ramps, slides, walls, obstacles on paper to deviate the path of balls falling from the top of the screen in order to hit targets or avoid obstacles or other similar tasks.
This product is again about learning the basics of coding. It’s made by a series of big “maps” printed on cardboard (I believe), a cute little “robot” consisting in a wooden cube running on wheels, called “cubetto” (little cube, in Italian), coding blocks, which are series of shapes, each one representing an instruction (like forward or right or function etc), these pieces go on a wooden control board to build the program. I really like this concept and the realization of this product.
Quiver offers a series of really interesting apps using AR. You can print drawings made just of outlines, like the good old fashioned coloring books, and use regular pencils, pastels, markers and so forth to color the drawings. These colored versions of the pictures then become alive on the device screen in AR and you can play with the character in mini games and activities.
I’m not a fan of the visual style and UI of this brand, but that’s a matter of personal taste, while I think the concept is very cool. It’s a very smart use of AR and a powerful creative tool for kids to express themselves with.
Besides more “traditional” concepts we saw in part 2, there are many creative products out there. Devices are made of more than a touchscreen; there are cameras, accelerometer, sensors of different kinds, connections like the old bluetooth or the newer NFC to be used, technologies like AR or VR…
Endless possibilities for being creative with digital (and non-digital) product design. Just, please, don’t lose the focus on being smart, wise and aiming for the best for your users 😉
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