By Christopher Byrne (Follow Chris on Twitter)

I was thrilled to find out this week that LeapFrog has unveiled its first game for the iPod Touch and the iPhone that it will sell through the Apple App Store.


Well, this is where kids are going, and I’ve been saying for a while that the handheld platform wars are over, and the winners are Nintendo and Apple. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of opportunity because the content wars are just heating up, particularly in the educational category where Leap’s only credible competitor is VTECH.

Everyone who knows me—and listens to me go on and on—knows that I love LeapFrog. They’ve done an incredible job and even with their recent business challenges they have never compromised their reputation with consumers. Ask any parent—and I ask hundreds of them all the time—about LeapFrog, and they know it’s synonymous with quality product. And here’s the kicker: They think that even if they don’t have kids who are LeapFrog age. It’s a textbook case of brand building that has, way more often than not, fulfilled on the brand promise.

According to surveys, more and more iPod Touch units are being sold for kids in the 8-11 year old range, and there are pockets of the country where kids have iPhones. Those that don’t own one but who have parents that do love to play on them.

I have consistently been blown away first by Leapster and then Leapster2 for the younger kids, but the handheld game for older kids, Didj hasn’t caught on quite as much. As kids get older, they want what their peers have, and that has meant Nintendo DS—and now the fantastic DSi—and iPods.  The important issue with these platforms is to remember that having them is what makes kids part of their peer group. The content is going to change from kid to kid—just like the iPod in the population at large. I promise you the songs on my iPod (musicals, classical, some classic rock) would bore you silly and have you make fun of me, but I’m betting that I don’t want to listen to yours. However, we still have the iPod experience in common and that’s where we identify ourselves within the context of the contemporary culture.

Okay, so I ponied up my $2.99 for Number Rumble and had a blast. The game has three modes-learning, quizzing and random quizzing. It enhances memorization of math problems and testing of what’s been learned. Plus, it uses the cool spinning technology that is part of the whole iPod/iPhone interface. It also uses the built-in accelerometer in the random quiz mode.

But here’s where the real genius in this game comes into play. LeapFrog has now taken one of the most arduous challenges of many third and fourth graders—learning times tables basic equations and so forth—and turned it into a game that is not just fun in itself, but uses the hottest platform out there.

Somehow, learning and drilling the times tables isn’t so tough when it’s on the iPhone, even if it really belongs to mom or dad. Plus, you get all the creativity and educational expertise of LeapFrog for only $2.99. When has that happened before?

LeapFrog says that this is the first of a series of casual style games that it’s launching for this platform. I say, hooray. And I’m predicting that as they continue to grow and expand, time on the iPhone or iPod Touch will have to be negotiated within the family, just as in the early days of the home computer when there was only one in the house—and it used two floppy disks. We didn’t think there would be a time when every member of the family would have their own computer, but we’re moving there very quickly.

I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t acknowledge that a $50 Leapster 2 or a $169 Nintendo DSI is a far cry from the $200-$300 you’ll spend for an iPhone or the $229 for the basic iPod Touch, but if you have them already, then the LeapFrog programs are a steal.

And then there’s our favorite practice—justification for buying something you already want. “Well, the kids can learn with it…” Face it, you want this thing, and it’s great. It’s not justification to say that LeapFrog just made it better.


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