In the absence of living near family or having “help” with our toddler, we have consciously succumbed to, at times, letting her enjoy an old iPhone here, the iPad there. On the one hand, I wanted her to get comfortable with the OS, and it’s been fun to watch her learn so quickly — one of the first things she learned, of course, was how to turn off the Airplane Mode setting her dad would enable. She can consciously take pictures and scroll through photos, but there’s also a cost — try getting any kid to put the device away, and may the force be with you.
Like many kids living away from family and grandparents, our kid loves using FaceTime. She’s more than familiar now with the user interface for FaceTime, the large screen devoted to the other person, with a picture-in-picture for her face. In her mind, I think, she feels that person is real. She’s met them before, but the full screen bleed on an iPad Mini makes their face come alive.
Now, hold on for a minute while I write a paragraph about Elmo. I know, I know. Very cliche, but I was amazed at just how fast our kid heard about Elmo, started asking for him, and then got attached — a stuffed animal Elmo, coloring books, the music, songs. You name it. She’s all in.
Then, a few months later, was with a friend in line waiting to get coffee, talking about our kids (and their affection for iPhones), and he talks about how the “Elmo Calls” app is a lifesaver. Brilliant idea. I downloaded the app for my daughter a few hours later, and it was fun to see her reaction. She immediately recognized the interface of FaceTime, and she immediately knew Elmo, so in her mind, she was just FaceTiming with Elmo. She was so happy, it was a very natural high. To her, Elmo was just another real person to talk to. The software just faded away and she thought she was speaking to a friend.
I tweeted about this a few months ago and had been meaning to write this post. Here’s the thread, which you can open up to reveal the comments. Turns out “Elmo Calls” was a project born out of IDEO, where they originally were designing the app to help toddlers get potty trained, but in their user-testing, they discovered the kids only wanted to talk to Elmo. And, thus, “Elmo Calls” was born ;-)