Tinybop: children’s apps to love and admire

Since Planet Lettra 2.0 launched on Tuesday, I’ve been asking friends and family to share the news about it because parents and educators need and want help to find unique, creative educational apps.  I’d like to do the same in this post by writing about one of the companies whose children’s apps I admire and enjoy the most, Tinybop.  In their Explorer’s Library series, there’s The Human Body, Homes, Plants, The Earth and Simple Machines.  The more recent Robot Factory and The Everything Machine are part of the Digital Toys series. We have them all on our family iPad and love coming back to them to make new discoveries.

They share a philosophy with Studio Goojaji in that they encourage free play and exploration in a kid- and parent-friendly environment.  Their apps are beautifully designed, illustrated and built.  The similarities in branding and UI between apps is very consistent and makes it easy to recognize them as Tinybop products move between them, but since the company works with different artists and illustrators on each project, each app has a unique aesthetic to discover inside.

I’m fascinated by all the small touches and decisions that must go into the building of each of these tiny gems.  Heaven knows there are a lot of decisions to make when developing apps.  Take The Human Body for example.

Tinybop Human Body skeleton view

The skeleton view with labelled bones

Tinybop Human Body app view with collapsed body silhouette

Oops! Can’t stand up without bones!

Tinybop Human Body view of respiratory system and menu pane

Breathing is animated and the menu pane on the left can be hidded (with Tinybop wind-up animation)

The main screen of that app shows a cutaway view of a child’s body.  The user can select which system (skeletal, circulatory, nervous, digestive, lymphatic) is displayed.  They can be layered, but when a single system is viewed, the key elements of that system are labelled (labels in 50 language are available!  Holy localization!)  On almost every screen there is something you can play with.  For example, the bones in the skeleton can be removed and dropped to the ground (as can the labels).  With you pick something up and move it to the right general area of the body, it snaps back into place.  I love to think of the choices that had to be made even for that small feature like:

  • what will be labelled? in the game things are labelled but not processes (processes—like phagocytosis and peristalsis—are shown through animation and games, but not named, which is fine)
  • will the body silhouette react to losing a single bone?… no
  • all its bones?…yes, it “deflates” and putting back certain bones
  • how big is the target zone for each part? and should you be able to build the skeleton wrong (i.e. be silly)… about as big as the part and yes
  • how much physics should there be?… the bones collide but there is layering, so sometimes you think they’ll collide and they don’t

Hats off to the all the Tinybop team members involved in those discussions and to the folks at Tinybop in general.  You’ve made some truly wonderful additions to our children’s “digital bookshelf and toychest” and opened up many worlds to them in a brand new way.  Thanks!