Say you’re a working parent who just doesn’t get enough time with your kids at the end of the day. Or, maybe you’re a young couple just starting to consider the idea of having kids of your own but you’re not sure if you can handle it. Well, thanks to Attachment Computing, now there’s an app for that: iKid!
In the same vein as TouchPets, iKid allows you to raise a virtual kid on your iPhone or iPod touch. You can select the age and gender if you want (for instance, to approximate your own child), or you can go for the random baby (just as virtual nature intended!) and raise it from infancy.
Now, obviously an app can’t replicate the actual joys and messes of having a real child, but it does get some features uncannily accurate. For instance, a young baby will spend much of its time asleep, but will also wake you up in the middle of the night for feedings. (Just drag the bottle to the baby. Because Apple keeps dropping and adding “explicit” apps from iTunes, developer Mike Tsao decided to leave out a breast-feeding option for now.) Shaking the iKid, of course, triggers all sorts of warning bells, but you can actually rock and sing the baby to sleep. Thankfully, you don’t have to sing well for it to work—the iPhone just checks the approximate volume of your voice. Too loud and the baby gets excited.
The teenager version is also realistic (but sort of a joke): mostly the teen just sits and glares at you sullenly or plays videogames. They’ll ask for the car keys incessantly (you can loan them the car, which will make them incredibly happy for a short period, but could also result in an empty virtual room for hours on end). The best part, though, is integrating iKid with actual texting on your iPhone, because if you use a teenager that’s the way they’ll communicate with you. (Tsao has mentioned he’s working on a future update that will actually create a Facebook page for your iKid teen.)
My favorite, though, is the three-year-old, maybe because I have one myself. At age three, my daughter still has some of the cuteness of her baby fat, she can talk and has definite opinions, and she’s still fairly easy to entertain. In short, a three-year-old is pretty easy to replicate in the virtual world, because they can give you pretty distinct signals about what they want, and their moods are straightforward and unsubtle. For the app, that makes the three-year-old pretty satisfying to play with, because you get even more of a direct response for your actions.
And the best action? Giving your three-year-old the iPhone, like a real GeekParent would. Pull the iPhone out of the inventory and hand it to the kid, and their happiness level shoots up. For realism, this locks your iPhone for about fifteen minutes while the iKid “plays” with your phone. And when it comes back on, you’ll find some random photos in your Saved Photos of things like the undersides of tables, stuffed animals, and feet. You may also find some emails or voice mails from friends/relatives/boss asking, “I don’t understand. What does ‘ffffffffffffffffffhhhhhhhhhhhj;;;;;;;;;;;’ mean?” (Just like a real kid, iKid will do some random dialing and texting during the fifteen minutes). There are some other surprises as well but I don’t want to spoil them for you. Of course, the phone-locking loses its novelty after the first few times, so it’d be nice if future updates allow you to turn that option off. For now, I’ll probably just have to find other ways to make my three-year-old iKid happy. (Just like in real life!)
There’s a bunch of other stuff you can do, from buying new outfits for the kids to giving them books to read to putting them in time-out. You can take them to the virtual park, or park them in front of the virtual TV. (Hey, even a fake kid has bad habits.) There are a couple little virtual games built in that you can unlock if you select an older iKid; one is similar to Tsao’s own Teragati iPhone game and there are several others as well. Overall, iKid takes advantages of a lot of the features of the iPhone (accelerometer control, microphone, phone/Internet connectivity) and leverages those to simulate having an actual kid with you. Just don’t leave it in your car.
When I spoke to Tsao about the app—is it meant to be a serious simulation or more of a toy?—he explained that it’s a little bit of both.
My goal, as stated on my website, is to make games that you’ll want to play until your thumbs fall off. But I’m also a stay-at-home dad and some of the apps I make are for my wife and other parents like us. I created the iLetDown app to help working mothers when they need to pump because I know it’s a real issue, but I know that’s more of a niche app. And there’s Doodle Burp, just a silly burping toy. But iKid is one that I hope will have broader appeal, particularly with the release of the iPad and the possibilities of having a much bigger screen to work with. So it’s definitely a sort of game, but I’m trying to make it as close to actual parenting as possible.
Wired: A fun spin on the virtual pet app; the “give your kid the iPhone” is meta-fun, and tying into other apps like Photos and texting definitely adds to the realism.
Tired: The price is a little steep, but it’s obvious a lot of work went into the app. It’d be nice to turn the phone-locking feature off—maybe in a future update?
Disclosure: Attachment Computing provided a download code for review purposes.