App Review: Sesame Street / ScrollMotion Books [for Touchpad] 14
If you have little children (or are just a child at heart), you probably have hours of Sesame Street episodes DVRed, a Tickle Me Elmo doll and a ton of Sesame Street books that you read to your little ones. If you have a Touchpad, you can now add interactive books to that list. ScrollMotion Kids has released a line of books into the App Catalog for $1.99 each, with a handful of Sesame Street titles, as well as a Curious George and Arthur book for your reading pleasure.
When you first load up the app (Elmo's Birthday, in this example), you are brought to the cover page of the book. A small down arrow on the top-left corner brings down a menu to jump back to the Cover page (where you currently are), start the book from the beginning, or go to the help screen. There is also a button on the bottom-right that will also start the book.
Once in story mode, you will see the first "page" of the book, with the text of the story written on the bottom of the screen. If the Touchpad's sound is turned on, you will also hear a narrator read the story to you. If the Touchpad's sound is muted, you will obviously not hear any sound. To navigate the story, you need to swipe across the screen to continue. Right-to-left to go forward, left-to-right to go backwards, as if you were turning the page. The book will pan and zoom around the current "page" a bunch of times to tell the story, until it gets to the next page. You can also press the table-of-contents button on the bottom-left to jump to a specific page.
Once the story is complete, it moves into an "educational" section that back-tracks through the story and provides the definition of some "everyday words" that were used throughout the story. This was fitting with the spirit of Sesame Street and provides a nice "bonus" to the story.
While the app was pretty simple and easy to use, there are definite areas that could be improved. While the narrator does a decent job reading the story, it just felt awkward at times. He would try to change his voice for Elmo, Elmo's Mom, Elmo's Dad, Ernie, etc., and I found it more annoying than beneficial. In addition, I would have liked to see an "auto play" that would just go through the whole book and not rely on the swipes to progress through the story. Often times my 2 1/2 year old daughter would point at the screen to show me something, but that would cause the story to go to the next (or previous) page. In addition, if you leave the app in the middle of the book, there was no way to resume the story where you left off.
Finally, the book has a tendency to crash at times. You turn the page and the app could just spontaneous close. As these apps are just a port from iOS (at the end of the story, it even tells you to look for more books on iTunes!), they may need some more optimization or bug fixes. When that happened, it was tough to explain to my daughter why Elmo just went away (and with no auto-resume, it took time to find where we left off). However, she still asks to "See Elmo book on Touchpad" and enjoys when we read it together. If your little ones are a fan of Sesame Street and enjoy reading, you may want to try picking up one of these books and seeing how they like it. Just be ready for those occasional crashes.
Update 8/6/11 - We recently saw an update to v1.0.3 of the Elmo's Birthday storybook app. With the update, the developer add a few major enhancements that address almost all of the issues I had. You now have the ability to activate an "auto-play" mode, as well as a toggle to turn the narration or the text captions on or off.