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Tangible Play Turns the iPad's Camera Into an Educational Toy

The Osmo games barely use the iPad's touchscreen at all.

Eric Johnson

There’s no shortage of options when it comes to educational apps on the iPad. But a Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup is betting that a bit of extra hardware will help it stand out from the pack.

The startup is Tangible Play, and its first product is Osmo, an iPad stand and plastic clip-on that directs the tablet camera down at the table. The three included games — Words, Tangram and Newton — barely use the touchscreen at all, instead asking players to put physical objects into that space below the camera.

CEO Pramod Sharma said most games encourage a “complete disconnect from what’s around you.” An eight-year Google veteran who worked on the search giant’s book-scanning project, he boasted of the Osmo app’s ability to quickly recognize the bundled shape and letter toys from Words and Tangram.

However, Sharma said the game that best represented the company’s goals is Newton, which doesn’t require any peripherals beyond the stand and camera clip-on.

During Newton, a piece of printer paper placed underneath the camera becomes a game board, and everything the camera sees is reflected on the screen. By drawing lines or placing physical objects on the paper, players create obstacles that virtual balls on the screen can bounce off of and into targets. Sharma said player testing with kids was consistently surprising, with players improvising obstacles out of whatever objects were in their vicinity, from toothpicks to their own hands.

The Osmo line is planned to retail for $99, but Tangible Play is trying to raise at least $50,000 from a month-long preorder promotional campaign in which kits will cost $49 each. The kits will ship in the summer if the goal is met.

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