gadg-et-oid [gaj-it-oid]


1. having the characteristics or form of a gadget;
resembling a mechanical contrivance or device.

ABC PocketPhonics for iPad Review

It’s no secret that the iPad is a brilliant educational tool. But it’s only as good as the software you run on it. It should come as no surprise, then, that the educational software market for the iPad is growing, and is already diverse and competitive.

I’m constantly keeping an eye out for educational software that will give my daughter, now 4, an edge at learning and I recently happened across one of the best apps I’ve clapped eyes upon in quite a while; ABC PocketPhonics.

Created by, ABC PocketPhonics for the iPad/iPhone, although far from pocketable when running on the iPad, is an extremely well researched, well put together and, above all, highly engaging app for children up to the age of about 7. It’s goal, as the name suggests, is to teach children phonics and it does this remarkably well and with noticeable results. It also teaches the right way to write each letter and has, as of a recent update, become even better at doing this.

First and foremost, though, phonics. Phonics are the building blocks of speaking, spelling and reading comprehension, the very sounds that make up our language. As many users of PocketPhonics have noticed, phonics are also slightly different depending on which side of the pond you hail from. Fortunately PocketPhonics addresses this, and comes with British English phonetic speech sounds to undo some of that Americanisation that Disney Jr. might have drilled into your child.

These sounds are not only British, however, they are Synthetic phonics spoken accurately by a teacher in a clear, pronounced and…well…teacherly voice. Once upon a time phonics fell out of vogue, but alternative methods soon appeared to caught a significant drop in literacy levels. It took years to rectify. As of 2007, however, Synthetic phonics became the favoured method of the UK Government, following the recognition of research which demonstrated that using this method increased literacy. That recognition came when 500 authors signed a letter stating how deplorable our English literacy standards were- yes, it takes a lot of time and effort to overturn a societal trend. This is probably all mumbo-jumbo to you, but ultimately it means that ABC PocketPhonics teaches the right thing, in the right way to British children; something that’s rare amongst iOS apps- many of which are geared toward the American market.

The phonetic sounds are comprehensive and offer a gentle difficulty curve, not just including single letters but combinations too. ABC PocketPhonics will speak the sounds; prompting the child to repeat them, which I’ve observed my daughter doing diligently. The novelty of speaking phonics never seems to wear off, at least it hasn’t yet, and I presume this is simply down to how… odd… most of them sound.

In the test mode, your child will also be prompted to pick the correct letter when a phonic is spoken, building up and ultimately speaking a simple word from a collection of around 170. The positive reinforcement for completing these tasks is strong, although I’ve noticed my daughter getting bored with the “test” parts of the game, and simply tapping ever phonic in sight until she gets past them.

The latest update, at time of writing, has been enhanced to allow your child to focus on the word itself, before being “rewarded” with the corresponding picture. The App does track how many wrong attempts they make when hunting for the right letter, and awards an appropriate number of stars at the end- but at the moment it’s difficult for a 4-year old to make the connection between getting it right, and getting stars. The next update should, hopefully, do something about this and better motivate your child… although you could always stand by with a pack of Smarties.

The letter writing, which is every bit as valuable as the phonics themselves, is tied into the whole process beautifully. Your child will be first prompted to write the letter, tracing it using their finger or, preferably, a stylus ( AluPen is great, and I’m sourcing some more to test, so watch this space ). Tracing the letter offers a rewarding progress sound, and an innovative guidance arrow flows through the letterform, guiding your child along the correct path. These are part of a recent update, and have proved immediately successful in correcting my daughters consistently wrong writing of the letter “P” in particular. It’s now very difficult to successfully complete a letter without doing it right, but the arrows guide her well enough to avoid any frustration.

In conversation with the developers of ABC PocketPhonics I’ve gleaned that they’re fairly committed to keeping this App ahead of the curve, which has been demonstrated nicely with the recent update, and some interesting features have been teased that I would certainly love to see. That it runs on both the iPhone and the iPad is refreshing, although it’s a lot better on the iPad, with a suitable stylus for really hammering home those writing skills.

Ultimately, this really is a fantastic app and I’ve seen a significant improvement my daughters writing and letter reading skills, certainly far more than enough to justify the extremely low price tag of PocketPhonics. Couple 10 minutes of so of this a day with hand-written letter practise and some basic reading practise and you should be well on the way to being a proud parent. I couldn’t recommend this App more! No, really. Do I write App reviews often? No. When I do, it means I believe they are worth writing about!

But don’t take my word for it, if you don’t want to. ABC PocketPhonics has a pretty comprehensive free “Lite” version available that you can try out now.

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011, iPad, iPad 2, iPhone.