Update: A bugfixed version of the app was just released. I’ll revisit the app soon. Perhaps at an even finer publication than this one.
I was pleased as punch when I read today that Sesame Street had released There’s a Monster at the End of This Book for iPad. The original story is adorable, and Sesame has a great track record with apps; Elmo’s Monster Maker for iPhone is an excellent iOS app for kids.
I’ll admit I made one rookie parenting mistake: I told my 4-year-old Anya that I had a new Grover iPad book to read to her for bedtime, before I’d taken the time to preview the app. She loves the mostly excellent Dr. Seuss apps for iOS, and we figured that Grover’s app would be similarly excellent.
We were wrong.
As we started reading the book tonight, my App Reviewer Brain started ticking off flaws. These flaws were initially minor, but they kept coming. You can’t turn pages until the animations and voiceovers finish. There’s no page turn animation. You don’t turn pages by swiping, the way you do in nearly every other e-book app for kids. You need to tap a tiny target area to trigger a page turn. You can’t go back a page.
Some annoyances were worse. One of the app’s hallmark features is that it lights up the words in the book as Grover reads them, to help young readers learn. Too often, the highlights lagged behind Grover’s narration, rendering them near useless.
Worse still, with nearly every page turn, you land on a completely blank page. As the app loads that page’s animation, artwork, and audio, you sit staring at nothing but a blank, hand-drawn book—for many seconds at a time. Parents, you can imagine how much youngsters enjoy moments like these.
Sometimes, Grover starts talking before the animation starts—and before he appears. Then, things rush to catch up. It’s jarring, even to 4-year-olds.
But the worst flaw by far is the app’s general crashiness. Anya never got to see the damn monster at the end of the book, because we couldn’t get that far. The app repeatedly crashed at later pages. And when you relaunch it, the button for skipping ahead to other pages is often unresponsive, so you need to sit through every single animation, page reading, and slow subsequent page loading. It’s painful. It’s unacceptably bad.
There’s a Monster at the End of This Book is fixable. But as is, it’s not even worth the 99¢ discounted introductory price. Sesame Street can do better, and my kid deserves it.