capsule review

Review: Two iPad bedtime apps

At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder The Going to Bed Book - Sandra Boynton

    Macworld Rating
  • Generic Company Place Holder Nighty Night! HD

    Macworld Rating

Ah, bedtime. I consider my kids’ bedtime the victory lap. We’ve made it through another day together—booboos have been kissed, meals have been served, Dora has been presented, and toys have been… well, toys have been left strewn all over the playroom. But still: The day is done, and I always delight in helping my kids off to sleep.

The bedtime routine at the Friedman household involves both a book and a song. We read plenty of regular books. We read Curious George on the Kindle. And we even read books off Daddy’s iPad. Usually, I rely on interactive (but still fairly traditionally presented) book apps like Oceanhouse Media’s Dr. Seuss apps. Recently, though, I tried out a pair of nighttime book apps that I knew nothing about going in. Would they amp my kids up with too much interactivity? Would they offer disappointing stories that would leave my kids dissatisfied as they prepared to welcome the sandman? And perhaps most importantly, would Macworld cover their and my therapy bills if necessary?

Pearls Before Swine: Adorable, interactive animals like this charming pig boost Nighty Night's cuteness factor.

First we tried Nighty Night HD, a $2 app from Shape Minds and Moving Images. The app loaded quickly on my iPad 2, with its soundtrack starting almost instantly after I tapped the icon. The app’s main menu offers a couple options: You can go through the story with or without the narrator’s voice enabled, and you can turn on Autoplay if you’d prefer the story to advance on its own. (Note that Nighty Night is also available as an iPhone app, though I didn’t test that version for this review.)

When you dive into the story itself, you arrive at a farmhouse. While everyone else in town has gone to sleep, the silly animals around the farmhouse have forgotten to turn off their lights. That’s your job.

You tap around the barnyard, into close-up views of the various animals. They’re all beautifully drawn and animated. When you tap on the animals, they make the sounds you’d expect. After you’re finished poking the animals, you find the light switch and tap that to put the animal to sleep. (If you poke sleeping animals, that triggers different noises and animations.)

After you’re finished putting everyone to sleep, the story concludes. This isn’t Shakespeare, and it’s not even Margaret Wise Brown. It is cute, and my kids enjoyed the app. Nighty Night did turn out to be a bit more interactive than I prefer my kids’ bedtime experience to be; everyone wants a turn tapping on every animal multiple times, and the app stops responding to subsequent touches until it’s finished its (often slow) animation. And the app doesn’t print the story’s words on the screen—if you turn the narrator off, there’s no real story at all.

Thus, I consider Nighty Night more of a fun app for young kids than a true bedtime story contender. I will say that the constant crickets in the app’s soundtrack get a bit grating, and we encountered a crash on occasion when attempting to disable Autoplay. I also wish my kids could tap on more: Only the animals (and light switches) are interactive, but the rich visuals include so much more that feels tappable—and isn’t. Though the app calls itself “A Bedtime Book”—it’s not. It’s well done and entertaining, but make sure you have the right expectations.

The Going to Bed Book for iPad app, on the other hand, is a real live book. I mean, yes, it’s an app. But when you launch the $3 app from Loud Crow Interactive, what you see is Sandra Boynton’s classic children’s board book. (As is the case with Nighty Night, The Going to Bed Book is available in iPhone form, too.) As you swipe to turn the pages, you can see the thick edges of each page. It’s a brilliant approach.

I'm Board: The Going To Bed Book app shows the actual board book itself—with added interactivity.

What’s more, everything about the app is irresistibly cute. If you’re not familiar with Boynton’s classic story, it centers on a cadre of cute critters, all of whom are prepping for bed and going through their own nightly rituals—teeth brushing, pajama-dressing, and so on. The book is delightful.

The app makes the book magical. Unlike NightyNight, most everything you can see in The Going to Bed Book app is touchable. Tap animals and they make silly noises. Tilt the iPad and watch creatures and objects slide around. Close doors. Help animals brush their teeth. Make them do their nightly exercise. Turn on the hot water tap, and watch as the whole screen eventually fogs up; then, of course, wipe off the condensation with your fingers.

You can choose to read the book yourself—indeed, the full text of the story is displayed in Boynton’s careful penmanship—or have a narrator read it to you. As the narrator words, each word is highlighted when he voices it. Tap any word to hear it read aloud, whether you’ve turned the narrator off or not.

We loved The Going to Bed Book in my family before it was an app. The iPad version makes the book better than any pop-up book could ever be; it’s interactive in meaningful and joy-inducing ways. The actions are fun to discover—and to replay. A book as timeless as Boynton’s deserved a perfect app to go with it—and that’s just what it got.

The Going to Bed Book app makes a perfect bedtime app. It’s a book, and yet it’s jam-packed with extra bits to induce a few extra giggles before lights out. I highly recommend it.

[Macworld staff writer Lex Friedman could use a little shut-eye.]

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At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder The Going to Bed Book - Sandra Boynton

    Macworld Rating
  • Generic Company Place Holder Nighty Night! HD

    Macworld Rating
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