HoloToy: An amazing 3D app for iPhone and iPad

We've looked at a lot of 3D apps before, but I believe that HoloToy (US$0.99) is really something special. If you have an iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad, you should download it right now. I don't think you'll find a better 3D app in the whole store.

HoloToy uses anamorphosis perspective projection to do its magic. This means that you won't have to wear those cardboard anaglyph (usually red and cyan) glasses; aside from being annoying, they kill the brightness and reduce colors to a muddy shade of beige. All you need to do is look at it and twist and turn your device to see the effects. It's an interactive app, and by making wonderful use of the built-in accelerometer, you can do a do a variety of things, including moving around a HoloBot robot and even playing a few games.

The process used prevents images from appearing in front of the screen, so what you get is a five sided box, with the screen being a clear wall that you look into. Twisting, turning, and tapping on the screen lets you interact with all of the 3D images.

The intention of the app was to start with a few sample images and add others every week or so, based on reader feedback. In fact, just today an update was released adding a customizable aquarium option. You can see the progression of the app as the new images have been released; the app started as a bunch of planets suspended in space that you can spin around by swiping. The distance between the planets and the back wall is apparent, and there is a white box on the back wall whose corners you can see by twisting and turning the screen. The depth effects get better with the next two non-interactive modules, an impossible triangle and two differently sized boxes.

The app became a must-have upon the release of the HoloBot. This is an interactive robot, with a big gun, that twists, turns, salutes, and moves based on where you tap the screen. You need to tap everywhere since there are Easter eggs to be found. The current version lets you customize your HoloBot by choosing a look, or skin, from thirty choices, or creating a custom look by using a picture from your photo library that you can then stretch onto the armor of the robot.

If you create something you like, it can be saved to your photo library for later retrieval. A great choice in development was to keep the HoloBot in motion, even if you aren't doing anything; this adds another degree of realism to the effect. It would be nice if sound was included, but maybe in a future version.

Next came two games, and they do have a bit of sound: HoloBall and Scarab Attack. HoloBall uses more realistic physics since holding your device normally keeps the ball at the back of the screen. A shape is shown somewhere on the screen and you have to roll a ball over it to score. Although it's pretty easy, this will have you twisting and turning your screen constantly. Sometimes, to get the ball to move to the front of the screen, you need to hold it over your head or turn it upside-down due to the amazingly realistic influence that gravity has over the ball. Scarab Attack takes all of this a bit further. In this game, scarabs move across four window boxes on the four walls. A cross-hair appears, and moving the screen moves the cross-hair in a similar fashion to that of HoloBall. When you get a scarab in your cross-hairs, tap a stationary suspended ball and blow away the scarab. Outside of being a great demo, the game is sparse but still a lot of fun. I spent a little too much time playing it.

Today's revision added an aquarium that holds five customizable fish. The graphics look a bit more realistic, and there is a photo frame in the aquarium that lets you put any picture in your photo library onto it. You can also stretch a photo over the skin of the fish for some very strange effects. The fish look like they are realistically floating. They all bob up and down together along with the current of the water. If you touch the screen, fish will swim to your finger.

The graphics are displayed at 60 frames per second so the animation is totally believable. Here's the best part, though ... since it's a universal app, you get a beautiful HD version with wonderfully scaled graphics (for the same buck) if you have an iPad.

The only problem I found was that, infrequently, the app can crash or toss you back to the menu screen while you're playing one of the games. This is rare, but it does happen.

I am really quite awed by this app and, for the price, I strongly suggest that you buy it if you have any interest in 3D or the graphic capabilities of the iPad version. Even on an iPhone's small screen it's really something to see. I promise you that you will get more than your money's worth, and I think that it just replaced Alice as my favorite iPad demo app.

Take a look at this video that shows both the iPhone and iPad versions in action.

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