Osmo is a new, fun and educational gaming platform for kids, which feels like a real game changer. It’s a simple idea done brilliantly well, and will appeal to parents who prefer their children to be a bit more active with their iPad games.
It’s a combination of hardware and apps that bring the iPad to life in a way that most app-only games can’t match.
Tangible Play’s Osmo brings iPad gameplay to life by being very hands on and physical. Instead of swiping and tapping players draw (on paper), pick up and throw (real) letter tiles, and fit geometric shapes (also real) together to create picture puzzles.
It’s real, man.
Osmo is aimed at children aged 6-12 but it’s just as much fun for adults, and younger kids can have fun too. Unlike most iPad games it’s one for the whole family to play together.
Osmo consists of a Base unit that you slot the iPad in portrait mode, and a little plastic mirror cap that fits over the camera so the iPad can ‘see’ what’s happening on the table below. It’s neat idea that has lots of potential.
It’s super easy to set up, and the simplicity hides what is really a great idea for transforming the iPad into something new. It pushes the virtual world of apps back into the real world of children’s games. Maria Montessori would approve.
It’s all done with a small mirror that deflects the iPad’s camera to the playing area – no Bluetooth, charging, or Internet required.
Take a look at this Osmo video to get understand the whole system.
Osmo comes with three games: Words, Tangram and Newton.
The whole package is worthy of Apple’s design team. The three boxes are white and minimal like the games themselves, and subtly connect together magnetically.
Words is an app plus the pack of two coloured alphabet letter tiles. There’s a red set and a blue set for competitive or team games. You could also play the game on your own, but the real fun is in the competition. This is one for the whole family.
The screen shows a photo and you have to spell out the word it represents by placing – or sometimes desperately throwing – the letter tiles in front of the iPad for Osmo to see.
The challenges get harder as the game progresses, and the words to find get more subtle – although rarely out of a child’s vocabulary. (The were a couple of words that we thought only Americans might know, but on the whole it works well for UK players, too.)
If you keep making mistakes or have trouble thinking of the words, then the game lowers the difficulty level again.
Words encourages looking and thinking, with some spelling practice thrown in too. It’s a lot of fun.
When I said these games are physical, I mean it. My 8-year-old daughter was pushing me out of the way when she wanted to throw her letter tiles in front of Osmo to score before I could. Let’s just say it got competitive, fast.
If parents could add their kids’ school spelling lists into the mix – maybe with audio rather than photo images – Words would be worth the whole Osmo price on its own.
Osmo games reviewed: Tangram
Tangram is an ancient Chinese game of making geometric pictures out of flat shapes.
It’s another example of Osmo’s physical and visual strengths. Osmo shows you the pattern and you need to recreate it using the supplied shapes.
It’s relaxing and pushes the player into concentrating and moving the puzzle shapes with their hands. It’s a very Monetessori approach, and quite calming (when you get it right!).
Osmo games reviewed: Newton
No, this Osmo game doesn’t turn the iPad into a Newton MessagePad – although how cool would that be?
Newton doesn’t come with a box and pieces like Words and Tangram.
All you need is the app, some paper and a pen or pencil. Scrap that… you need a lot of paper. If you really get into Newton you’d be wise to buy a small whiteboard to play with, and save your paper supplies.
Newton drops virtual balls from the top of the iPad screen, and you control their fall by drawing lines on the paper or even pacing objects in their way, so that they hit the desired targets.
Newton is another visual/physical game – with added audio as the balls hit the virtual surfaces – that requires more focus and thought than most kids’ iPad games. There are 60 levels to complete.
Osmo: UK availability and price
Tangible Play, the company behind Osmo, was created by two former Googlers and an ex-Disney executive. It’s a new company, and as such the game is currently available only by pre-order.
Osmo costs US$99, although at the time of writing there’s a half-price deal for pre-orders – which may take a few months to ship.
International shipping costs $26; it’s $8 within the US. You could cut shipping costs by ordering more than one unit. Shipping an extra unit costs just $10 more to the UK. Order some for presents, and save yourself some cash while making yourself popular at the same time as finishing all your Christmas shopping early.
With the half-price deal Osmo costs $75, including shipping to the UK. At current £/$ rates that’s a reasonable £45. Buy three, and the unit price (inc. shipping) falls to £38.
Osmo is a fantastic new type of gaming on the iPad. It’s physical and stretches a child’s mind while also being a lot of fun. Parents are rightly concerned about the amount of screen time their children spend in front of the TV, computer, smartphone and tablets. Osmo uses the iPad less for its screen than its ability to let people interact physically in front of it. The iPad’s screen seems secondary to Osmo’s game fun, creative and educational playing pieces. It’s a game that will be enjoyed by all the family.