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Violet for the iPad: an interactive children's book

David Winograd

Violet for the iPad (US$2.99) from My Black Dog Books is the latest entry in the emerging field of interactive books for children. Geared at children ages 4 and up, Violet is the first of a series of stories about a charming little girl with a big secret. The 20 page book tells a nice little tale, along with a moral, and it introduces elements that will be continued in future books.

Allison Keeme's illustrations are beautifully drawn, and they take full advantage of the graphic capabilities of the iPad. If you like, you can take a look Allison's process of building the graphics. I'm positive that small children will enjoy reading about Violet and her secret identity. The world of Violet has a consistent look and a great attention to detail. When the family gathers around the breakfast table after one of Violet's exploits, they look absolutely exhausted, but you'll have to read the book to see why. There are two specific tasks to perform in the book, and I think it was a good design choice to have the book do it if the child doesn't.

Unfortunately, I found a number of problems with the execution of the app, which may frustrate small children. There is scant interactivity to be found. With many possibilities for interaction, only a small number of things that you can tap on actually do anything. There are quite a few pages that are static. In fact, outside of credits on the first page, the first bit that does anything appears on page five, and you might easily miss it. There is a spider that swings when touched. If the accelerometer was used, as in Alice, it would be much more apparent. I can imagine small kids getting frustrated by tapping on everything and not getting paid off very often. A real design problem is that you need to tap on a page in order to display an arrow that, when tapped on again, gets you to the next page. I think the arrow should be persistent and eliminate an unneeded tap on every page.

I also found what I consider to be an error. When Violet is in school, a few of the pictures on the wall behind her enlarge when touched. One of the pictures is a house, but above that picture is a stick figure. Tapping on the stick figure brings up the enlarged house; the area of input should be more specific.

Overall, I think Violet is a great introduction to an interesting character and the world she lives in. I hope that, in future entries (the next will be released on September 1st), the technical problems will be corrected and a lot more interactivity will be built in. I would also like to see an option included that allows the story to be read to the child.

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