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Summary:

Osmo combines real-world play with the iPad, and I was blown away when I saw a demo in May. This week, I had a chance to take it to the test.

Osmo's camera mirror allows the iPad to recognize objects placed in front of it, extending game play into the real world.
photo: Tangible Play

I was pretty excited when I first saw Osmo, the iPad accessory that extends playing to the real world, going as far as to call it “the iPad’s next killer app.” But getting a demo of a of a product is one thing. This week, I finally got to put Osmo to a real test — by handing it over to my 7-year old daughter.

First a quick recap: Osmo’s hardware is the combination of an iPad stand and a small mirror that clips onto the iPad’s front-facing camera to redirect its field-of-view onto the table in front of it. This is being combined with some dedicated iPad apps and accessories for different games. And if you have a hard time imagining how this looks like, check out this promo video:

Osmo’s maker, Tangible Play, is getting ready to ship a first batch of sets to early backers in August, and is currently taking pre-orders for a second shipment in October. Pre-orders of the game cost $50, half off the eventual retail price. The company wants to keep developing games for the platform, but the initial set ships with three titles.

Tangram: it’s a classic, and for a reason

There is a Tangram game that combines the classic colored wooden shapes with an app that prompts players to build certain figures. It’s a classic game, but the combination of the actual wood pieces and the “eye” of the iPad allows Osmo to tell players whenever they got one of the shapes right, and even provide hints for harder-to-crack problems.

My daughter got immediately sucked into the game and started to puzzle away. Some were pretty hard to solve, but the ability to trade points for hints added another level of gamification, prompting her to solve a bunch of easier puzzles in order to crack that one hard one she had gotten stuck on. Also nice: Osmo proved to be forgiving if shapes weren’t aligned completely in the right angle.

The Tangram game was definitely a hit during our test, and lends itself to collaborative play. It also succeeds at incorporating the real world into the game, to the point where my daughter kept playing with the puzzle pieces for another ten minutes after my iPad’s battery died.

Words: A lot of fun, with a few flukes

Osmo also comes with a Pictionary-like game called Words that includes two sets of actual letter tiles, one in red and one in blue. The corresponding iPad app displays photos and lets you spell out words by literally throwing the letter tiles in front of the iPad. The app is surprisingly good at recognizing the letter shapes, even when the tiles are upside down, or when both players add two different letters at the same time. The only issue that came up frequently was that it would miss-identify more complex letters as “I” when part of the letter was covered up by a finger or another tile.

osmo-words

Two players can play words together, or against each other. There doesn’t really seem to be a single-player mode, but you can always opt to just play the collaborative mode by yourself. We tried both — working together and playing against each other — and had a lot of fun. As soon as we finished a game, which actually takes some time, my daughter wanted to do it again. And when I asked her what she liked most about it, she said: “Winning.” Well, yeah, I’m not gonna comment on that.

Newton: The most creative game, but also somewhat complicated

The third and last game in the Osmo bundle is called Newton, and it’s basically a kind of pinball game that literally starts with a blank slate, asking you to redirect falling balls by drawing objects in a piece of paper that then get incorporated into the app in real-time. That doesn’t just sound hard to explain, it’s also kind of hard to do, at least for a 7-year-old.

My daughter quickly went through a whole bunch of paper in order to keep up with the game, and occasionally she would move the paper with her arm, involuntarily changing the entire playing field. In theory, you can also incorporate real-life objects into the game, but this often just led to way too much going on the screen.

Still, the idea of Newton is pretty compelling, and I’m sure we will give it another shot at some point.

A great combination of iPad and real-world gameplay

After seeing my daughter play with Osmo for what was admittedly just one afternoon, and occasionally joining in on the fun, I’m still as excited about the product as I was when I saw the first demo. Sure, there are a few things here and there that could be improved on, but overall, the combination of real-life objects and iPad gameplay works really well.

My daughter fell in love with Osmo as well, going as far as calling it her favorite iPad game after a few hours. “I can’t wait to get one of our own,” she said when I told her that I’d have to return the review game sent to me by Osmo’s makers. And then she started to think about what other games would work with the Osmo:

“They could do one where you have to draw something and the iPad has to guess what it is.”

True, that would be pretty cool.

  1. Joan Hoenow Monday, July 14, 2014

    typo alert: “Some where pretty hard to solve” should be

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    1. Thanks, Joan! We fixed it. Thanks for reading.

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  2. The game also includes helicopter parents’ favorite two words, recited roughly 150 times per day per child – “GOOD JOB !”

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