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The hottest kids toy this Christmas is… an iPhone?

Streaming music? There’s an app for that. Turn-by-turn navigation? There’s an app for that. Location-based social networking? There’s an app for that. Toddlers? Well, there are nappies for that, but no apps. Are there?

Actually, there are. One of the most intriguing trends on Apple’s App Store right now is the burgeoning market in applications aimed at very young children. They might not own iPhones or iPod touches – well, not unless they’re exceptionally pampered – but their parents do.

What’s more, they’re usually happy to pay hard cash for anything that distracts their little darlings for a few minutes. In that sense, iPhone apps are the new In The Night Garden DVD box-sets. Sort of.

A few examples: Wheels On The Bus is a musical book based on the song of the same name, blending animation and interactivity in equal measures – your child doesn’t just sing along, they can swish the window wipers and spin the wheels. Toddler Flashcards is an iPhone version of those cards you can buy in the real world to start teaching words, including photos and alternative French and Spanish translations. Categories include animals, food, shapes and the gloriously all-catching ‘Things’.

Shape Builder is an on-screen puzzle where your child slides shapes into place; BabySitter2Go is a mixture of simple games and nursery rhymes; Coloring Book is a tap-to-fill interactive colouring book; and Color Me Piano is an on-screen piano that lets your special bundle of joy indulge their inner Chuck Berry. And those are just the ones that appeal most to my two-and-a-half year-old son.

These apps are cheap – many sell for 59p – colourful and hugely entertaining for kids. Well, the good ones are, anyway. Few would have predicted a booming market in toddler apps when Apple first launched the App Store last July, but that’s what’s emerging.

There are some initial barriers, particularly the often justified fear of handing over a precious iPhone to a mucky-handed child whose way of expressing boredom with a toy is to fling it across the room. But that’s the point: they usually don’t with an iPhone – they’re captivated by these apps.

There will probably be some experts warning that kids shouldn’t be squinting at mobile phone screens for their entertainment, or learning to manipulate a touchscreen before they get to grips with, well, getting to grips with physical objects. They may well have a point.

But as an iPhone-owning parent, I’m constantly being delighted by the imagination and creativity that’s on show in the App Store for these kinds of apps. I’m also hopeful that this will follow through if and when Apple launches its media tablet device, which latest rumours suggest will have a 10-inch screen.

We often talk about Apple competing with technology from Microsoft, Nokia or Sony, but the rise of toddler apps mean it should also be providing some competitive headaches for the likes of Leapfrog and Baby Einstein too.


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