Sometimes one is faced with a challenge that one can not overcome alone. In those times of need, one may reach out to a specialist in the challenge’s realm. This was one of those times.

I called my 4 year old son Zeb to come play a new game with me. He took a break from playing with his Thomas & Friends toys to come see what I had for him. Any opportunity for him to play with Daddy’s iPad seems to be reason for him to celebrate. He decided this was time for a thumbs-up dance. Then we
got down to business.

A bit of background on my son; Zeb is a 4 year old that loves anything with an engine, so I have spent a considerable amount of time looking for games and videos that really engage him on his level. The catch is he was diagnosed on the Autism spectrum when my wife and I noticed he was having significant delays in his mental and physical development.

One such difficulty is getting him to follow logical instruction, rather than the often seemingly random methods he uses when playing. (example, a truck goes up the elevator then the train goes down the tracks, followed by the eggs cooking on the play stove. Then the truck goes down the ramp.) His doctors had suggested that computer programs (and by extension iOS apps) may be able to help him communicate better with us as well as express himself at his own pace.

After stumbling upon Kids Vehicles: City Trucks & Buses, I figured it was worth a shot to see how he reacted to it. I downloaded the free version which contains a School Bus, Dump Truck & Ambulance.

The app is pretty simple, and doesn’t require much reading but does encourage it, which is a great asset to parents looking to help their kids strengthen their reading skills. Kids vehicles offers an isometric top-down view of a street, on which each vehicle zooms in from one side, stops for you to play with and explore, then drives away with a touch of the arrow (or swipe of the finger) with appropriate sounds as the next vehicle rolls into place.

Once you find a vehicle you like, the fun begins. Touching different parts of the vehicle gives you a description combined with a sound effect and animation where possible.

For example, the School Bus has the following touch points:

  • Roof
  • Headlamps (animated)
  • Mirror
  • Windows

  • Wheels
  • Bumper
  • Wipers (animated)
  • Door Open/Close (animated)

Some of the vehicles have more touch points, some have a few less, but there are more than enough for most kids to discover and enjoy. The full version (1.99 for iPad, 99¢ for iPhone/iPod) contains 7 more vehicles, all with really unique features. Those vehicles that are not in the free version are: Fire Truck, Cement Mixer, Tow Truck, Parcel Delivery Truck, Beverage Truck, City Bus, and Garbage Truck.

The fire truck made Zeb incredibly happy and excited at its extensive interactive features, and of course the siren & lights. Another feature the app has is “Jeff, the truck driver”. He stands, stoically cross-armed, narrating your journey through the various trucks and their components. If you tap on him while viewing a vehicle he will give a slightly more detailed bit of information, often explaining the purpose of the vehicle. His unusual intonation can be off-putting to some people. Jeff sounds almost mechanical-yet-human voice mixed with a Canadian accent.

The colors are crisp and the menus are clean. I cannot stress how important this is in apps for kids, especially those who need a bit more help getting through them. Many designers forget their target audience is under “app purchasing” age, and throw a dozen menu options when you get started, and no easily identify PLAY button. Kids Vehicles is ad-free and will keep your child very engaged without being distracted by accidental taps opening up strange complex menus. The in-game menu icons are large enough for kids to touch confidently and again, clearly labeled with pictures for the target users.

The only complaint as a parent I would really have is the music. It has a guitar riff on loop that seems to be about 2 minutes long, if that. Wonderfully, you can mute the music at any time, but if your kid loves the music, (just like mine does) prepare to hear the same looping generic guitar over and over and over.

I love the fact that my son is learning and having fun with one of his favorite subjects, and is able to play at his own pace. There are times he has just sat there listening to the fire truck or ambulance siren for minutes on end. Other times he keeps making the garbage truck pick up the curbside trash a dozen times in a row. This brings him joy and doesn’t try and deter him from playing the way he wants to play.

In Conclusion

Overall this is one of those apps that wil stay on your device as long as your kid is digging it.

Here are Zeb’s impressions of the game:

“When the fire truck has the ladder go up it goes BEEEP!”
“I want to drive the cement mixer some day.”
“Can you turn the sound up daddy?”

Ok so maybe not the most useful of quotes, but he asks for the “Vehicle Game” when he gets home from school and has played with it more than I have used some of my apps. Now I just need to find a way to get my iPad back from him.

The only negatives I could get from him is that he wants “more vehicles” like “Semi Trucks and Taxi Cabs.” as well as “I want to make them drive around the iPad.”