Children's software has been around in a more or less static state since the earliest programs for the Apple II. Yes, the graphics have grown up, the games have gotten jazzier, but the fundamental models have stayed pretty constant: there are arcade games, basic math and letter-learning titles, and a handful of interactive storybooks. Toca Boca virtually created a new genre for kids: the digitial toy. They create apps that can be used in much the same way as many of the best conventional toys, as jumping off points to creative play. I first became aware of Toca Boca when I got a hands-on with Helicopter Taxi for the iPhone. This little program puts kids in control of a copter that, using the phone's built in camera, seems to fly around the house. Kids, particularly block-building kids, immediately understood that this was the best add-on for traditional blocks since toy soldiers and hot-wheels. You could build a city with blocks and then "fly" around it using augmented reality. The app didn't do much more than that, but it did it very well, with a lot of wow-factor for $1.99.
Toca Tailor evolves tradional paper doll play (and dress up) to the digital age. You start with one of four characters, a boy, girl, or two animals, and then dress them using a variety of clothes, shoes and accessories. In that regard it uses a simple game mechanic that is found in video games as diverse as Barbie to World of Warcraft. It seems people of all ages like creating and customizing characters, and there are lots of accessories here that make this entertaining.
But, dress up is only Toca Tailor's jumping off point. First, you can change the style of the outfits by touch. Want to turn that shirt into a dress? Just pull on the hem and watch it lengthen! Tap on the sleeves to make them change from form fitting to puffy.
Next, you can change the pattern of the outfits, and this is where things begin to get very exciting. You can use the traditional method of picking a pattern from those supplied with the kit (much as you might have with paper dolls) or you can create your own fabrics using the iPhone's digital camera. Want the girl to wear the same fabric you are? Just take a picture of your clothes' fabric and woosh, it will appear in the app! You can also do all the "touch magic" that you'd expect. Pinch to make the pattern bigger, twist to rotate it, spread your fingers to make it grow. You're not limited to fabric for textures, either. If you can take a picture of it, it can appear, in-app, as a virtual fabric.
Wait, there's more! (Well, maybe) According to the publisher, when your creation is dressed, you can use the camera to actually place it into your real world surroundings. Point the camera where you want to see your "doll" appear, snap the shot, and now you see it superimposed as if it was really there. It didn't work on the build I reviewed, but I am told it is working on the current version.
The app builds on Toca Boca's concept that digital play isn't a substitute, but a compliment to traditional play. It provides stimulating opportunities for creative role playing, integrating new technology to tried-and-true children's play patterns.
Sew, what are you waiting for? Go get it.