How many sleeps to Christmas? There's an app for that
Do you know how many sleeps to Christmas? If not, there are literally dozens of iPad and iPhone apps that will tell you.
After listening to holiday music at the mall, are you craving yet one more rendition of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer? There’s an app (or two, or 20) for that as well. Want to play a Christmas-themed game? Colour a reindeer? Give Santa a haircut? You can find apps that’ll do all those as well.
I’ve spent hours sifting through the thousands of Christmas-themed apps available for Apple’s iPad and iPhone, and my brain is still numb. Type “Christmas” into the App Store and (as of Dec. 4) 1708 iPad apps and 4098 iPhone apps pop up (far fewer apps for Kwanzaa and Hanukka, by the way).
Many are gimmicks (the free “Naughty or Nice”, for example, supposedly determines whether you’ve been good or bad by scanning your fingerprints. Yeah, right.) Many are hasty, poorly done copycats of casual games given a thin holiday veneer. And others entice you in with a low (or free!) price and then require frequent in-app purchases to unlock new levels, songs or prizes. Caveat emptor indeed!
But there are some worthwhile Christmas apps available. Here are my picks:
Advent Calendars: There are many virtual Advent calendars available for the iPad, some of them free, some of them costing a little. Most are not worth downloading because they don’t really take advantage of the iPad’s multimedia capabilities (you’re better off with an old-fashioned advent calendar -- at least with some of those you get chocolates!). The 99-cent NFB Advent Calendar, which I mentioned in my previous column, is the best of the digital bunch, as every day until Christmas you get access to yet another of the NFB’s classic videos. All are kid-friendly, and (so far) all have been enchanting (including such favourites as “The Cat Came Back” and “The Girl Who Hated Books”).
Books: Lots of Christmas-themed books available on the iPad, including Nativity stories and Christmas legends. My favourites are the PopOut! The Night Before Christmas and A Charlie Brown Christmas, both at $4.99. The former features lots of pull tabs, spin wheels and spring-mounted objects -- all virtual of course, while the latter includes the original dialogue and music from the classic television show and is narrated by Peter Robbins, the original voice for Charlie Brown. You can play Schroeder’s piano, help decorate the tree, play a snowball-throwing game and more. Magical.
Games: Christmas games range from Angry Santa (he’s fed up with the bad little kids) to Santa’s Village to Santa City. The latter is my favourite -- the basic version is free, and it features a stunning 3D ride on Santa’s sleigh through a wintery landscape as you help Santa collect letters from children. In Santa’s Village, you help Santa create a new village to build more toys. The graphics are nice, but the gameplay is unintuitive and the game itself rather tedious, especially for the children who, one presumes, are the intended audience. Angry Santa’s Christmas Revenge (99 cents) also has clumsy controls, but at least has a sense of humour.
Music: Many, many choices here, but of varying quality. Stay away from the apps that only provide you with links to streaming internet radio stations that play holiday music -- you’re better off getting a more generic Internet radio player like TuneIn Radio (99 cents) and selecting the “Christmas” category. Not only does it provide more choices, but it gives you access to thousands of non-Christmas stations as well. There are two apps I can recommend, however: the free Sing Along With Santa () and the $4.99 Christmas Carol Songbook. The former features a somewhat odd-looking Santa who explains the origin of each of the carols and then sings it (you can switch between Santa and Mrs. Claus). The latter includes words and sheet music for more than 40 carols -- perfect for that Christmas Eve singalong.
Letters to Santa (free) lets your child write a letter to Santa and send it through the iPad. You choose whether you’ve been good or bad, your age, gender and name, and then write your letter. A few hours later you’ll receive a notification on the iPad that Santa’s reply is ready.
Toca Hair Salon - Christmas Gift (free) is a rather bizarre app that lets you cut, style and colour Santa’s hair. The results can be, ahem, interesting. (You can also "trim" a Christmas tree, if you're so inclined.)
3D Christmas Aquarium (free, ad-free version for $0.99) ) is a virtual aquarium where your fish swim around a snowy Christmas landscape. Mildly amusing for a few minutes. You can get the ad-free version for 99 cents.
The Christmas Coloring Book (free, $1.99 for the ad-free version), provides several Christmas-theme images for your child to colour. She can select from paint mode, drawing mode or erase, choose the colour and then scribble away. Once her masterpiece is complete you can email it or post it to Facebook, Tumblr or Twitter for the world to admire.
There you have it; a sampling of the thousands of Christmas-theme iPad apps available on the iTunes store. There are many more to explore, but only (hmm, let me check my iPad), 19 day, 7 hours, 4 minutes and 21 seconds left to find them.