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Summary:

While primarily due to being ill *yet again* (I’m beginning to think Seattle is the nation’s cold/flu incubator), last week’s blogging was further disrupted by the preparations for and celebration of our last child’s second birthday. As you can imagine, children of geeks tend to get […]

Cat in the HatWhile primarily due to being ill *yet again* (I’m beginning to think Seattle is the nation’s cold/flu incubator), last week’s blogging was further disrupted by the preparations for and celebration of our last child’s second birthday. As you can imagine, children of geeks tend to get more geeky presents and Ian is now the proud user of his own age-appropriate “Leap” device and the plethora of add-ons that go with it. This is also the age where we have tended to start our kids on interactive computer software (that is, if you don’t count Baby Banger). Besides Winnie-ther-Pooh, one of his favorite stories is The Cat in the Hat by the venerable Dr. Seuss, so I grabbed a copy of MacKiev’s electronic version at the Alderwood Mall Apple Store and had it ready to go on the MBPro for the big day.

We’ve purchased other versions of this interactive Cat for his brother and sister, but MacKiev did an outstanding job on this version with enough distinctly Mac touches to warrant a post. What did the developers get right?

A solid installer

While I am – and other experienced Apple users are – fully comfortable dragging applications around, newer Mac users and switchers tend to like installers. Good installers do the heavy lifting for you, make sure you know what’s going on, possibly do extra work (more on that in a bit) and provide an easy way to un-install the program. MacKiev definitely got this right.

Keeping up-to-date

“Registering” children’s software – or any other type of software for that matter – on Windows boxes was usually a task I would avoid since it tended to be little more than a request for spam. The MacKiev installer gave me the option to register and I took a chance since (a) it’s a Mac program and (b) it provided a means to opt-out of spam-like messages. Immediately after registering, I received an e-mail letting me know there was a Leopard update to the program, which I promptly downloaded and installed. While a “check for updates” menu item (*cough* Sparkle *cough*) would have been even better, it was refreshing to get useful mail right from the start.

Choices & control

The Cat in the Hat software has two primary modes, interactive (click on things during the story) or “movie-mode”, which is just an animated reading of the book while words are highlighted. You really don’t need software for the latter, and the book/content publisher finally understood this since the installer asked me if I wanted to upload supplemental content into iTunes. This “supplemental” content was actually the full audio and video of the book, which was copied in DRM-free format into my library where two playlists were also created, ready to sync to my iPhone, iPod or Apple TV (it’s now on all three).

For quite a while, Ian will just be sitting with me as we watch the story unfold or as I click on images to make them do unexpected tricks, but now he’ll also be able to hunt for it on my iPhone (he already knows how to call his mother on it and can get to music he likes without help from anyone, which is a tribute Apple engineers UI design/implementation) or request it as an option for the infrequent TV time the kids get.

MacKiev’s great work has guaranteed a purchase of The ABC Book when Ian is a little older and is definitely something other developers & publishers should seek to emulate in their offerings. If you’ve had some good experiences with other children’s software, be sure to drop a note in the comments (hey, it’s for Ian after all!).

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  1. I had given up on children’s software on the Mac as “garbage” after some disappointing experiences (i.e. horrible Windows ports that worked poorly if at all), so I’ve been relying on mostly-functional (and free!) Flash-based games on various children’s websites.

    These new offerings by MacKiev look like they’re worth a try – though perhaps a bit pricey for the limited amount of content (compared to all the free Web-based stuff out there).

    Thanks for the positive review.

  2. I’ve struggled with finding good stuff for mac X which is more than just candy for kids. But here (2 girls, aged 5 and 6) we also like Green Eggs and Ham (same stable as Cat) and Kid Pix for Mac X. Also Plopp (3d drawing prog where you can ‘inflate’ your 2d creations). Kid Pix and Plopp feel quite nicely integrated with Mac, Kid Pix has iLife plug ins and suchlike and loads and loads of scrummy details – my kids have been using it for a couple of years and will probably have stuff there to keep them involved for several more years to come. It’s photoshop for kids, basically.

    We also sometimes download stuff from Gameshouse – Tumble Bugs and Feeding Frenzy for example are easy to understand and play, they also both like Garden Dreams.

    My kids are autonomously home educated and do not yet read, so it’s a challenge to find stuff that they don’t have to read to play, but still has some educational value and is not just time frittering. I’ve found that anything marketed as ‘educational’ tends to have rubbish graphics and interface and not much appeal, really.

    This doesn;t include web-based stuff as my kids are not on the web yet.

    For anyone who’s wondering, my kids *don’t* spend all their time on their computers (my 6 year old has my old powerbook, the 5 year old has a refurb macbook). They do nothing but play for a day or so and then they spend a week or so doing something completely different and barely touch their computers, until for some reason they go back to them again.

    I reluctantly invested in a P.C Emulator (oh the shame, the shame) because I really wanted them to be able to play stuff like Pharaoh, Caesar, etc. when they are older (and, O.K. I wanted some oldschool playing for myself over Xmas!) and I’ve not seen a mac sim or worldbuilder that comes up to those games. And of course I can’t wait til they are old enough for the Myst series.

    Oh, and also Fritz and Chesster chess games – both girls love these games (there’s a 1 and a 2) and after a few days playing the 1st title they were able to play my husband on a real life board.

    Fritz and Chesster, Kid Pix, Green Eggs all are available in the Applestore and quite pricey. Plopp and the GamesHouse stuff are downloads, and reasonably priced.

    Sorry for the hugely long comment – looking for decent kids games for the Mac that don’t feel like a P.C port has been a bit of an obsession for me lately.

  3. I just found, in my opinion, the BEST KID APP of 2009. It is aimed at kids ages 8-14 years old

    they have an impressive line of protective silicone sleeves that fit snuggly over an iPod nano and include a range of hip monster creations, with editions available for both iPod nano 3rd and 4th generations.

    Psyclops.com
    users can create and dress their own avatars, mix their own music, and create animated dance videos that can be downloaded onto your iPod for viewing and sharing.

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