POV: MonsterABC

* “POV” (Point of View) is a new feature that we’re testing out *

MediaBrand’s rating: 8.0
IAR’s rating: 7.0

Women tend to run away screaming when I approach and that makes it hard for me to reproduce, so in order to test drive MonsterABC I recruited the help of Ella, a sassy little four-year-old whose parents I’ve known since my first day of college back in the stone ages.

MediaBrand‘s app is a colorful learning tool that provides alphabet practice for toddlers by providing a word and an illustration for each letter as well as each word’s spoken pronunciation, plus there’s a fill-in-the-blank section where the child picks the missing letter in words like “kite” and “umbrella”. The spoken parts sound like they’re voiced by a child (good move!) and the artwork is top-notch, so I think it’s fair to say that MonsterABC has a lot going for it. It’s simple, it’s glossy, and it was able to hold Ella’s attention for waaaay longer than I was predicting.

There is, however, one major part of MonsterABC that Ella’s parents weren’t at all crazy about…

MediaBrand’s summary:

What MonsterABC does:

MonsterABC is more than just another flash card application. It’s the latest in childhood development tools, built specifically for the iPhone.

What this app does right:

This game features beautiful illustrations that keep kids interested throughout their tour of the alphabet.

Where this app needs to improve:

Need to improve user interaction when the game first opens – can be difficult to understand for some. Need to add more words.

Features and improvements planned for the future:

Additional words, free pc/mac version with every purchase

IAR’s take:

At startup, you can tell immediately that a lot of care went into the visual design of MonsterABC. MediaBrand is right… it has beautiful illustrations that keep kids interested. The startup screen is very basic with the only instruction being “choose!”, and this is another area where I’m in agreement with the developer’s take… it may not be difficult for geniuses like me, but if you’re just a year or two out of diapers it could be hard to figure out what “choose!” is referring to (letters or words). It’s good to see that MediaBrand is already aware of that.

I’m not around four-year-old children very often (phew!) but even I know that they’re famous for having ridiculously short attention spans. Ella picked up MonsterABC and spent a solid 10 minutes or so tapping around and listening to the pronunciations of all the words and looking at the funny green monster who sort of plays “host” to the whole experience. I heard her repeating what the app said, and for a while it seemed like she was fairly into it. The thing that drove all the grownups in the room crazy, though, was how the words get pronounced. Each word’s first syllable gets repeated several times, probably as some kind of phonics lesson, like this:

(illustration) Apple
(pronunciation) A-a-a-a-a-apple

Ella didn’t seem to mind this at all and, in fact, she was actually saying “a-a-a-apple” out loud which earned some scowls from Mom. Mom’s objection wasn’t that a phonics thing was being incorporated, it was the lack of choice that kind of got her wound up. We talked about it briefly and concluded that there should be some kind of “phonics toggle” that allows the grownup to choose the repetitive pronunciation or just hear the recorded kid say “apple” right off the bat.

Another thing on the phonic repetition that Mom wasn’t a fan of was in the Word section where the missing letter might be “L”, but the recorded voice was still stressing the first syllable, like uh-uh-uh-uh-umbrella. On the plus side, the fill-in-the-letter word thing is intelligent enough to vary the missing letters; play it now and you might get UMBREL_A, and the next time you play it might be UM_RELLA.

Overall this is a quality kids’ app, and the $1 price tag isn’t asking a whole lot by any stretch. I asked Ella if she was going to play with MonsterABC again later and she gave a moderately enthusiastic Yes, so that right there is a victory. Building in more words and offering a free desktop version are great ideas and when those improvements are rolled out they’ll add a ton to MonsterABC’s value… but, as evidenced by my test run, the current teaching m-m-m-method may not jive with all parents and that’s something I’d suggest taking a good look at. If this can be addressed successfully, I think I’d up my rating to match the developer’s 8.0.

iTunes Link – MonsterABC
MediaBrand website
Version 1.0
Tested on iPhone 3G OS3.0.1

* POV is sponsored by the developer

2 Responses to “POV: MonsterABC”

  1. Joe Johnson Says:

    Excellent review of an app in a very crowded pre-school game market.

  2. Jeff Stutz Says:

    I bought this app for my son and he loves it. Well done Mediabrand!

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