Assumptions are rarely safe. But I’m sure most of you will come with me when I go out on a limb to say that, by and large, kids love toys. Yep. And they also love cartoons. This has been true as long as either have been around, however, a more recent taste to trend among the world’s wee ones: Love for the iPad. Some even said it was the toy of the year in 2010.
A new startup from Y Combinator’s gigantic summer batch of 63 companies launching today, called Launchpad Toys, agrees that tablets are big among kids — and that they just happen to be an incredibly effective educational tool to boot.
In short, Launchpad wants to bring toys into the digital age. The startup is building a suite of apps for the iPad that allow children to create, learn, and share their ideas through games — in an effort to become “the Lego of digital play”. Through its apps, the startup aims to bring classic toys (and toy makers) like Play-Doh, Crayola, and Erector Sets to the iPad, but with an educational backdrop that is standardized and meets national educational requirements.
The first piece in Launchpad’s suite is Toontastic, a game launched in January that enables kids to create and storyboard their own cartoons (choosing from a bunch of different characters and backgrounds) and even move their characters around the screen via touch and record audio to give them a voice. The goal is to help children learn about the art of storytelling, while allowing them to enjoy the fun of animating their own cartoon, before sharing it with friends and family — and even winning awards.
Toontastic has been featured by Apple four times since going live and was recently added to the App Store Hall of Fame, which in turn has seen the app attract over 40,000 paid downloads and has led to its users creating over 170,000 cartoon characters. Check out how kids react to the app here; not surprisingly, they love it. (And so do their parents, apparently, as Toontastic was the recent winner of the Parents’ Choice Award.)
That’s probably because the subject matter in the app meets with late elementary-level creative writing standards, which gives parents a sense of well being while watching their young ones on an iPad — not to mention that the iPad’s multitouch functionality gives the app a collaborative spin that encourages parents to join in to play with their kids. Touchpad also creates a parent/teacher guide for its apps; check out the guide that explains some of the educational intricacies of Toontastic and how it matches up to National Standards for Creative Writing here.
What’s more, Launchpad didn’t just want the user experience to be limited to the standalone app, so the team created ToonTube, a global story-telling network, which allows kids to share the stories they’ve created on Toontastic with their family and other kids from over 100 countries. Users can browse the network from within the app, vote on the cartoons they like best, and interact with other kids. If a cartoon attracts more than 8 “likes”, then the creator of the cartoon earns a badge, while each badge collected unlocks new characters that can be used in stories.
The Launchpad team, headed by co-founders Andy Russell and Thushan Amarasiriwardena (who hail from prior lives at Hasbro and the Boston Globe, respectively) said that they’ve tried to take a specific educational subject matter — in the case of Toontastic, it’s creative writing and storytelling — and match it with a form of play (puppets, in this case) to provide an experience that fuses non-pedantic educational material with the fun of games.
Russell also tells me that Launchpad has had some great reaction from teachers — across the U.S. — and though the startup designs its apps to be consumer-facing (not for classroom-only use), he says that touch devices give both educational and game developers an opportunity to design for schools and kids, which was previously difficult to do because of the barrier for entry involved in integrating game consoles, etc. into the classroom. Launchpad’s suite of apps will continue to be designed with the home in mind first, but the key, he says, is to tailor the experience so that it is optimized for both.
In terms of the future roadmap for Launchpad: The founders said that they want to continue building apps that merge learning goals with play patterns, using this formula to expand into other verticals. They also plan to soon create a toy store to enable in-app purchases, like new characters and backgrounds.
Using the iPad’s ability to save, share, and collaborate as a launchpad, the startup is on its way to creating a new generation of early learning toys. So far, they’re off to a great start.
For more on Launchpad Toys, check them out here. Let us know what you think.