When I was at school, we had lessons in micro-electronics: getting hands on with circuits and wires. The subject fell out of fashion a bit in recent years as the emphasis in computing lessons shifted towards using computers, not grubbing about with their innards.
A fair few people would like to see the subject brought back. But The Everything Machine from children’s developer Tinybop takes a creative and interestingly-different slant on the idea: making micro-electronics a virtual, on-screen activity.
“Kids are empowered to build anything they can imagine using the hardware and sensors already on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch,” explains its App Store listing.
“Use a simple visual programming language to combine your device’s camera, microphone, speakers, gyroscope, and screen to make a light, a stop-motion camera, a kaleidoscope, a voice disguiser, a cookie thief catcher, or anything else you can think of.”
This is designed to be an app for collaboration too: if you have a pair of iPads or an iPhone and an iPad, you can connect the devices. There’s even an Apple Watch companion app for parents who own Apple’s smartwatch and want to show off.
Features like logic gates and routers that I remember from my schooldays can make more complicated machines, and if you have several children using the app, each can save their own machines to avoid sibling rows.
I’ve been playing with The Everything Machine, and it’s a real treat: an open-ended tech sandbox with bags of potential for weird and wonderful machines. It can feel a bit daunting at first, but it’s well worth persisting.
The important thing, I think, is that the fun doesn’t just come from children building stuff with the app, but from sharing the experience with you as a parent or carer: figuring out what the different parts do and experimenting with how they work together is great fun as a duo.
The Everything Machine costs £2.49 for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, and it might just be the perfect back-to-school app for the end of the summer holidays – and beyond.
Read about more Tinybop apps for kids on Apps Playground