Tuesday, May 1, 2012

One Great App Deserves Another

Apps We Love: Stella and Sam Story Pack and Doodle Cast by zinc Roe
Have you noticed that when you discover a great app—well-designed, beautiful graphics, easy to use, fun—you’ll find other terrific apps by the same company? It makes sense. Talent, skill, and an uncompromising commitment to quality form the basis of the best companies and I’ll add zinc Roe Design to that list. Two of zinc Roe’s apps—Stella and Sam Story Pack and Doodle Cast—reflect top quality design and functionality in two very different incarnations.

Stella and Sam Story Pack is based on the adorable book series by Quebec-based author and illustrator Marie-Louise Gay. Stella and Sam are the older sister/younger brother duo who loves to explore the natural world. In the Story Pack they investigate through the seasons, both night and day. One of the things I love about this story app is the same thing I love about the book series: the relationship between brother and sister is kind, supportive, and thoroughly admirable. It’s everything a sibling relationship should be, just as in all great children’s media with siblings, like Peppa Pig, Max and Ruby, and Charlie and Lola.

The app version brings the books to life in beautiful animated sequences. The irrepressible redhead Stella and little brother Sam are voiced by real (obviously talented) kids. And the characterizations are true to their Canadian roots: listen carefully and you can hear Stella pronounce “about” as “a-boot.” In the Story Pack, a series of five stories (that are also available separately) are packaged in a single bundle. The bundle is particularly effective, as users get to go through the seasons with Stella and Sam.

Each animated story leads to fun activities, such as in “Into the Snow We Go,” where Stella and Sam search for their buried toboggan which leads them to an interactive game where the user is invited to imitate Stella and Sam and make a picture in the snow out of sticks and other found objects; then decorate a snowman; and uncover various lost treasures under the snow. I’ve rarely seen such beautifully realized animations in an app or such seamlessly integrated interactivity. My 3 ½ year old had no problem navigating this app and in fact, it’s difficult to tear her away once she starts exploring the different modules.

Doodle Cast for Kids is so much fun and so full of surprises, you will thoroughly enjoy sharing this app with your kids (if they let you have a turn). This is a truly empowering app, simple yet impactful. In short, it’s a drawing program where users dip their fingers into a choice of nine different colors to create a sketch. While you’re drawing, feel free to share your thoughts, even narrate your activity. When your drawing is finished, hit the “done” button, and the app “plays back” what you just created, as the illustration magically re-draws itself in real time, all the while playing back the audio from the original experience. So with practice, users can draw and narrate a little story that can be played back as a short cartoon. These little mini films can be saved and shared with their Photos App. This is a great idea for kids to create talking greeting cards for loved ones. I can see a child drawing a bunch of flowers as they say, “Happy mother’s day” to the special moms in their life.

Users can choose to draw on a blank page or can add to a choice of twelve different simple illustrations such as water, sky, shopping cart, etc. Or the user can respond to twelve different prompts to draw something “fast” or “yucky” or “cold.” This app opens up an interesting new world. Users of this app can rightly be called animators. That’s pretty awesome.

Review Summary:
App Name: Stella and Sam Story Pack
Category: Games
Age Level: 4+
Updated: April 26, 2012
Requirements: Compatible with iPad. Requires iOS 4.2 or later.
Price: $6.99
Bottom Line: Everything a story app should be: beautifully illustrated and animated, completely interactive.

App Name: Doodlecast for Kids
Category: Education
Age Level: 4+
Updated: March 27, 2012
Requirements: Compatible with iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPod touch (3rd generation), iPod touch (4th generation) and iPad.Requires iOS 4.3 or later.
Price: $1.99
Bottom Line: You’ll be an animator almost immediately.

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