Hullabalu, A Startup With A Different Take On Touchable Storybooks, Arrives On iPhone

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Hullabalu, the New York-based kids app maker backed by $1.8 million from SV Angel, Great Oaks and others, is today bringing its iPad storybook app to the iPhone. Like the big-screen version, the new app also features the same cast of characters (a tribe of cute and sometimes precocious bears), as well as the “touchable” story play.

What makes this app different from the large number of interactive storybook apps out there is that it lives in a niche that’s in between e-books and games. While some interactive storybooks include pages that you turn, accompanied by touchable in-book elements where illustrations would otherwise be, Hullabalu forgoes the “book” metaphor. Instead it offers text that can be swiped up from the bottom of the screen to read, as well as a narration option.

The idea is that kids don’t just listen or read the story — they actually have to tap around on the screen in order to advance the story’s progress. This gives the app (“Pan: The Fearless Beribolt”) an almost game-like feel.

Because the app is still very new, founder Suzanne Xie, who sold her first company, Weardrobe, to iLike.com in 2009, declines to provide user or download numbers, but she did say that the app hit the No. 1 position in Apple’s Books list during its first week on the App Store, and has now seen over a million touches on the iPad. (“Touches” being a vanity metric the startup is choosing to share over hard numbers.)

She also tells us that average engagement time is around 15 minutes per session, and the majority of people who download the app play it every week, while one in five will play it as much as four times per week.

In my own tests with the iPad version (ahem, well, with some kids I know), I found that the animation and interactivity was the best part to the experience, but the storyline and voice acting could use some tweaking to really engage the target age range of 3 – 7. Comparing this app to the professional quality of something like Leo’s Pad from Kidaptive, for example (another startup re-thinking kids’ edu-tainment), Hullabalu’s app feels a bit less polished. It may be unfair to hold up a startup’s app to those with more resources (like Kidaptive) or to the high-quality output of established brands like Disney or Nick, but that’s the very real market Hullabalu will have to compete against.

On that front, Hullabalu is working now to add talent. It recently added the former President of Marketing at Disney Worldwide, M.T. Carney, as an advisor.

That said, I’ve already seen the app launched repeatedly in the weeks we’ve owned a copy, which is a promising start.

Pan is on sale in the Apple App Store for $0.99, a discount to promote the new iPhone-optimized edition.