Saturday, November 12, 2011

iPad + Real Toys: It's About Time!

I saw something at Target the other day that had me really excited. Not because it, in itself, is a really cool toy - but it's the first I've seen of its kind, and it likely marks the beginning of what I think will be a very cool category of toys and learning tools.

They're called AppMates, and so far these Cars 2 toys seem to be the only ones that exist. The idea is simple - you have a physical car toy that the iPad can sense. You download the free racing app, and you can race your real car toy on the virtual race track on your iPad.

Like I said, not that awesome right now. But think of the possibilities! You could theoretically build a manipulative that was not only sensed by the iPad, but also could detect what was displayed beneath it, giving you two-way communication of a sort. I once had an idea for a book that would act as a companion to existing popular Nintendo DS games, outlining activities that combined the game with the real world to simulate scientific activities - for example, using Viva PiƱata as a location for doing observations similar to those a biologist would do in the field. That sort of idea plus this technology could do some really amazing things!

This post cross-posted to The Cognitive Informalist.

Knockoff accessories

I wanted some accessories for my iPad, but I didn't want to pay $60+ for a keyboard and $30+ for the camera connection kit.

Luckily, there is the wide world of knockoffs! Are they as good as the originals? Probably not, but they're way cheap.

Keyboard: You can use any bluetooth keyboard, of course, but the Apple one is so slim and compact. I found several knockoffs on eBay - just search "iPad keyboard" and you'll be inundated with them. I figured in for a penny, in for a pound with the cheap-knockoff thing, so I bought the cheapest one I saw, for $24.

And it didn't work.

BUT the seller sent me a replacement quickly and without fuss, and the new one works just fine. I was out the $6 return shipping - check policies before buying - but the keyboard was still half price. I'm typing on it right now, and the only complaints I have are that the shift key occasionally sticks and gives me 2-3 capitals in a row, and a few of the letters skip if I type too fast. So, you get what you pay for. But for me, a subpar-but-tiny $30 keyboard trumps a perfect $60-70 keyboard.

Camera Connection Kit: Unlike keyboards, Amazon has a good selection of off-brand iPad connectors of various flavors. I went with this one for $7 with free prime shipping. Unlike Apple's kit, this one puts the SD reader and USB port on the same dongle, so you only have one tiny thing to keep track of, which is nice. You can find other ones that also hold microSD cards, have a TV connector built in - some have five or seven connectors on one dongle! I stuck with the basics.

And so far, it's been just fine. I've only used it a few times, I'll admit, but so far so good. I've had no problems either using it "officially" via the photo app, or connecting to it via iFile to use it as general external storage. Unlike the keyboard, in this case I can't imagine why Apple's costs more than 4x the price - though maybe mine will die in a month, who knows.

In summary, I'm glad I bought both of these over their more expensive brand-name counterparts, but I'm not sure I'd say they're both worth their price. The keyboard is only a good deal because the Apple one is so expensive; objectively it should probably cost about $10 less. The connection kit, on the other hand, is worth every penny and possibly a few dollars more.