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Osmo extends iPad kids' gaming to the physical world

Osmo adapter for iPad with letter game

In a few short years, the iPad has gone from geeky luxury item to a ubiquitous, incredibly popular device -- and that's especially true with the fickle, frantic audience we call "the kids." Little hands love Apple's portable, touchable tablet... maybe a little bit too much. Parents and educators may be wondering if all this tablet time is the best way to engage and entertain young minds that learn most effectively by engaging with the physical world along with the virtual one.

This tension between the allure of the iPad and the need to keep kids connected to reality is why the current pre-launch campaign for Osmo is so intriguing. With a remarkably simple hardware mirror module + stand to reorient the iPad's front-facing camera down towards a tabletop, plus some very clever software and visual recognition engineering, Osmo creates a "tangible play" experience that helps kids get out of the locked-in relationship with the iPad screen, and reconnects them to the people and objects around them.

Osmo's three announced games -- Words, Tangram, and Newton -- all take advantage of the downward-view camera and the iPad's processing power to recognize what players are doing with real objects in the real world. For Tangram, it's geometric primitives assembled to match the onscreen design; with Words, players toss letters into the play zone to help answer clues. Newton is a "dots to target" puzzle game with a twist; the falling balls bounce off a drawing, objects or even a finger visible in the play field. It's easier to understand once you see it in action, as below.

According to co-founder/CEO and ex-Googler Pramod Sharma, the kids in the promo video had never used or even seen the Osmo apps before they stepped in to be filmed. Their interactions and first impressions are what you see here.

Osmo's pre-launch approach follows the example of a couple of other "quasi-crowdfunded" products, where the funding campaign is effectively an advance sale program; unlike many Kickstarter or Indiegogo hardware projects, the design and development of Osmo was locked pre-campaign. That didn't hold back its popularity, though; the product hit its $50,000 presale target within a few hours of the May 22 launch, and the second batch of pre-order units is now up for grabs.

To sweeten the deal for early adopters (who get a $49 purchase price, versus the launch amount of $99 per Osmo, and additional $5 discounts for referrals), the company is promising that backers will get free downloads of any additional games released in the first two years of Osmo's sales. They'll also get a two-year replacement warranty if they lose any game pieces.

With a target audience of kindergarteners through 12-year-olds, the Osmo market is nice and wide; schools and educators that have had a chance to help play-test and refine the product are expressing early enthusiasm for it. At the moment, however, it's parents and kids that Osmo wants to reach in advance of its late summer on-sale date. If it looks good to you, the pre-order desk is open.

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