Parents are the world's busiest people. Carving out 15 minutes to read a bedtime story or play a game of Go Fish is not easy. But, grandparents have what parents do not: time and patience. And now, thanks to the Internet, they've got proximity, even if the kids are a continent away.
UStyme, launched by a grandma, is a free video call app for iPad that lets grandparents and kids have a video chat while engaging in a variety of activities together, like reading a book or playing a board game. The storybooks include some classics like Goldilocks, some original content, and some familiar kids' games like Checkers and Four in a Row. Once the app is downloaded and installed on the iPad, one person initiates the video call, and then decides which activity to do together. A few sample games are included and the company plans to charge a fee (typically $.99 to $1.99) for new content. The app is a bit simplistic and no frills and the video can be a little slow. The creator, Linda Salesky, a grandma with a geographically removed grandchild, designed the app when she realized that just chatting with a young grandchild is not a particularly satisfying endeavor because they're so easily distracted. The games and the books serve as conversation starters and allow chat to happen.
Kindoma, another free video chat app for iPad, is designed to let grandparents and kids share a storybook together. Once the free Kindoma app is installed, an invite is sent to join for a story session. The cool technology here are what I call magic fingers. As you read, a shadowed finger appears on screen. It lets you point to things and ask each other questions or take turns turning the pages. Two different colored fingers represent the two readers. There are no games like Checkers or Four in a Row on this platform and the stories are more beautifully told (and also more expensively crafted). The initial library has about 100 titles and you also get a few free previews. While the overall look and feel of this app is way more polished, the books are more than double the price.
A few big eye-openers about the beauty of having the kids talk to the grandparents using an app. Both sides of the family will need to have the app downloaded and need an iPad with a front facing camera (I had problems finding someone to play with since my family has early iPad hand me downs). You'll want to set things up before inviting the kids or the grandparents to join. My nephew got so bored with both apps that I was left playing with my sister-in-law. We had a great time, but he was long gone.
Connecting video chat with ebooks and games is a brilliant way to get grandparents and grandkids talking about books and life. It's not quite as cozy as a grandparent's lap but having a book to kick start a conversation between far flung families is an awesome idea. Special note: military parents, divorced parents and even parents who travel will appreciate this as well.
Technology and services that resonate with an older population will be a focal point and hot topic of discussion at the upcoming Silvers Summit, during the 2014 International CES on Tuesday, January 7 at the Las Vegas Convention and World Trade Center (LVCC) in Las Vegas, NV.
Robin Raskin is founder of Living in Digital Times (LIDT), a team of technophiles who bring together top experts and the latest innovations that intersect lifestyle and technology. LIDT produces conferences and expos at CES and throughout the year focusing on how technology enhances every aspect of our lives through the eyes of today's digital consumer.