Tinybop’s Homes (Explorer’s Library No. 3, 2014; iOS only) allows children to explore living spaces in four different countries — Mongolia, Yemen, the United States, and Guatemala — while also getting an introduction to some of these countries’ cultural markers such as language, food, and music.
The app opens on a world map with four circles representing the homes with which you can interact. On the left is a pull-out control panel offering navigation among the four living spaces as well as options to turn sound on/off or change the language. Tap on a circle to go to an exterior view of a country’s representative home, where the name of the type of abode (e.g., “ger,” “tower house”) flashes briefly at the top of the screen. At the top right are a plus- and minus-sign icons, which give the you the choice to interact with the outside of the home more closely, enter the home, or exit back to the map.
Several of the items in this exterior view can be moved or tapped to initiate animation. In Mongolia, the horse gallops and neighs, the motorcycle revs its engine, and the sheep can be sheared. These outdoor activities vary by region: in the United States you can decorate the row houses for different holidays, place a trash bag in a bin, and bounce a basketball; in Guatemala you can plant seeds, paint the house, and hang laundry up to dry; in Yemen you can honk a car horn and dust a carpet. Tap the sun or moon to switch from daytime to nighttime and back; use a pull-out menu at the right side of the screen to change the weather (everywhere but the U.S.). Slide a bar across the screen to see a cross-section of the home’s internal structure, including the plumbing and electrical lines.
Enter the house to pan side-to-side and up-and-down through the space and interact with any number of household items, many that are culturally specific.
Here is where similarities and differences are most clearly highlighted: all of the homes have cell phones, tablets, electricity, and running water, but the U.S. home has a washer and dryer and more food in the fridge than the others. Radios and TVs can be turned on, books (in the regional language) can be opened and explored, meals can be cooked, animals can be cared for.
There are even opportunities to add your own photos to frames on the wall or see your “reflection” in a mirror. Gentle, regionally specific sound effects round out the app. The animations are sometimes imprecise — interactive items can be tapped for sound effect or moved by swiping, but can’t be re-oriented. This makes some activities difficult to complete, which can be frustrating.
This app is perfect for devoted “house” players — there are tons of items to look at, drawers to open, messes to tidy (or make), and areas to poke around in — and any young person curious about homes and daily life around the world. A user manual is free to download from Tinybop’s website.
Available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (requires iOS 7.0 or later); $2.99. Recommended for primary users and up.