iPad review: Toca Everything, Part 1

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Toca Boca

One of the first things you realize you can do with your tablet computer is get a host of apps that will engage your kids. As with the television, you’re not really supposed to let your tablet device become your electronic babysitter; instead, you’re supposed to stay involved alongside their use, commenting on what you observe, and monitoring your child’s use. Let’s face it, though, the iPad or smartphone comes in mighty handy during long road trips, restaurant outings, or just times when you need the kids out of your hair for a little while.

One of the first app I procured for my iPad was one published by Toca Boca, Toca Doctor I believe it was, and I was immediately impressed by the quality and attention to detail of the app. I’ve since made a habit of snapping up Toca Boca apps every time they go on sale, and I now have almost the whole suite of them. (You can now also buy them as a bundle in the iTunes store for a discount). I recommend them all.

There’s a number of things that I like about them. They really know and design for their target audience: kids. The graphics are large and bright and subtly animated. The interactive animations remind the kids of how alive the iPad sometimes feels, and they are also accompanied by nice little sound effects, the way you see in a game like the Sims. Most of the apps are very forgiving to the kind of spastic swiping and touching that can often come from younger, less-coordinated children, and interesting results are often achieved from these random explorations. They’re the kind of apps that kids don’t mind returning to again and again, even though most of them aren’t really games of a traditional sort.

Indeed, Toca Boca calls its software “digital toys.” Most of the Toca Boca apps don’t have fixed goals or achievements but invite open-ended play. Many of them are kind of scaffolded tools of creation. This is far more preferable than what you might normally think of as games, especially for the younger set. Even though several of the apps are more sophisticated than others, nearly all of them have elements that appeal on some level to kids of all ages. My 2-year-old happily messes around with Toca Nature, a very sophisticated app, while I sometimes catch my 7-year-old hovering over the shoulder of his sister, trying to see and take over what she’s doing in one of the less advanced programs.

Each app also has a link on its home page to specific parent suggestions regarding the app. None of the “toys” comes with third-party advertisements or in-app purchases. Despite not following a freemium business model, a surprising number of the apps are regularly put on sale at bargain prices. Wait around long enough, and you’re bound to see that Toca app you’ve got your eye on for 99 cents or even free. Heck, they even have a mailing list on their site that has some pretty good articles on child development and parenting.

I’ll devote another post tomorrow to specifically going over the different Toca apps that I myself am familiar with.

[UPDATE] Here’s the all the posts in this series:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

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