© 2011 Disney Consumer Products
Teaches: Representational play
One of the most innovative applications of iPad technology this year, the Disney AppMates ($20 for two) are matchbox-sized cars that transform the multi-touch screen into a slippery playspace, where roads and ramps scroll automatically. Kids love them for a few hours, but the nov...
One of the most innovative applications of iPad technology this year, the Disney AppMates ($20 for two) are matchbox-sized cars that transform the multi-touch screen into a slippery playspace, where roads and ramps scroll automatically. Kids love them for a few hours, but the novelty fades; a problem that is solved by buying another $10 car (each car unlocks more content). The base of each car is a pattern of three capacitive sensors that let the iPad "see" each car. Not only does it know the difference between Lightning McQueen and Tow Mater, but it can tell which direction they're headed and scroll appropriately, with the correct sound effects. In addition, a block of white pixels is used to send light through a window in the bottom of the car, giving it the illusion that the lights are working. No batteries are required. Once you download the app, you can either drive around the scrolling streets of Radiator Springs or complete missions, such as delivering a lost tow hook to Mater while earning hubcaps. Effects include working headlights (you see the beams in front of your car, in real time) and a large mirror where you see a perfect digital reflection of your car. So how does it work, with no batteries, wires or bluetooth? The tiny car uses you as the power source. In order for it to work, your fingers must touch the sides of the car, that channels the capacitance of your hand through the toy and into the unique dot pattern on the bottom. This allows it to be recognized by the iPad's capacitive sensor as an arrangement of fingers. That's the technical answer. The easy way to say it is that there is technology in the toy that extends your finger, right through the car, into the screen. Based on the number of times the words "patent pending technology" was used in the press materials, Disney seems to be pretty proud of this accomplishment. The transfer process isn't always perfect. When you get too close to the edge of the screen the scrolling can stop and start, which can be frustrating. The app is free and can be used in limited form controlled without a car, using your finger, which, last time I checked, is also free. See also Hot Wheels Apptivity (CTR Aug 2012).