The foam ball is one of the oldest kids toys around, and Physical Apps has found a way to stuff your smartphone inside of one. The company took to Toy Fair 2014 to showcase its TheO SmartBall Jr. and brand-new TheO SmartDisk, two kid-friendly accessories that make playing with your phone or tablet a more tactile experience than ever. We went hands-on with both products at the TheO booth, where we were able to safely toss, tap, and flip the mobile devices on display.
Originally a Kickstarter project, the SmartBall Jr. is an orange foam sphere that brings the classic Nerf ball to mind. The toy has a rectangular perforation in its center for your iPhone (an Android version is coming later this year), as well as finger holes in the back that let you hold the SmartBall like a bowling ball. There are currently a handful of free and paid iOS apps that are built for the SmartBall Jr., including "Hot Potato," "Pop Fun," "Twinkle Twinkle" and "Animals."
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"Twinkle Twinkle" is a music game that has you shake your device in order to play classic children's songs, while "Animals" simply requires you to quickly flip your device 360 degrees in order to make a new creature appear on-screen. These are games that can be played without accessories, but the SmartBall helps gives parents peace of mind that their smartphone won't be shattered from their little one's play sessions. Apps like "Bowling" take full advantage of the SmartBall Jr.'s design, as you can connect the app to any screen running a web browser and watch as your physical SmartBall knocks down a digital set of bowling pins.
Physical Apps' newly-unveiled SmartDisk brings that same foam build and presents it in tabletop form. The orange oval wraps around your smartphone or tablet, with four psuedo-buttons in the shape of a heart, club, spade, and diamond on the edges. The SmartDisk allows you to play accelerometer-based games without having to hold your device, as you can simply press down on one of the elevated edges to make your smartphone or tablet move. We found the design especially intuitive when playing "Labyrinth Maze," as the edges allowed us to guide a virtual ball through a challenging maze fairly easily.
The four-edged SmartDisk is made with multiplayer in mind, as exhibited by Physical Apps' trivia game that allows a player to "buzz in" to answer a question by simply pressing down on their respective edge.
The iPhone version Theo SmartBall Jr. is available now for $35, with an Android variation planned for the near future. The SmartDisk is planned for later this year and has no official price, but the company expects them to ship at a retail value close to $50. Overall, we were impressed by the extra safety and functionality that the SmartBall and SmartDisk add to mobile devices, and we look forward to seeing more from them when the newer builds arrive.
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