AlphaPuzzle is a very simplistic iPhone/iPod Touch application geared toward pre-school and kindergarten-aged children. It consists of three parts. The first part is a “tracing” activity, in which you can trace upper- and lower case letters. You trace the letter on the screen with your finger, and can press “Clear” to trace it again. The first thing I noticed was that the lowercase “a” is not the way it is taught in most manuscript methods – it is the way it types on a keyboard – and it is even a different font than the other letters. (It uses a serif font, like Times New Roman, as opposed to a sans serif font, like Arial). The letters are in alphabetical order, so you have to press “Next” several times if you want to practice tracing specific letters. Also, if you are in “lowercase” mode and press “Next,” it gives you the next letter in uppercase, so you have to press “lowercase” again. When I got to the letter “W,” the app closed immediately. If I pressed “Next” quickly enough, I was able to get to “X,” but the same thing happened with every letter after “W” – BIG glitch in the program.
The second part is a “flashcard” activity. First, you see the lower- and uppercase letters. When you press “Flip,” the card “spins” to show a picture that begins with that letter. When you tap the picture, the word appears and is spoken aloud. The flashcards must be done in alphabetical order; again, there is no way to skip to specific letters or to randomize the order of the cards. The arrow in the bottom right-hand corner of the picture-side of the flashcard is so small, that when trying to press it to move to the next card, it often repeated saying the word. (Perhaps a 5-year old with smaller fingers would have better luck.) I got as far as the letter “O” – once I was able to find the tiny “magic” spot to touch to advance to the letter “P,” the app closed immediately. Needless to say, I had no desire to try to go through the entire alphabet again to see if it would go past that point.
The third part of the app is a jigsaw puzzle activity. There are three simple pictures to choose from. You touch the one you want to solve, and the puzzle pieces appear, all jumbled. To move them, you “drag” with your finger. However, I found the process quite tedious, as I often moved a different piece than I intended to, because of the way they are layered, and the pieces tended to “jump” around quite a bit. There is a “Help” button that puts a transparent “overlay” of the finished picture over the puzzle pieces, so you can see what the final picture should look like, but I thought it made it much more difficult to see what part of the picture was on the actual pieces. Pressing “Help” again made the overlay even less transparent. (You could press “Clear” to remove the overlay one layer at a time.) Like the other 2 activities, I found the program “glitchy;” it would exit the app when I pressed “Clear” on occasion. Two of the puzzles had only 4 pieces, which might be appropriate for preschoolers, but the third puzzle had 12 pieces, and I thought that preschoolers would be overwhelmed by the difficulty of the interface. One of the most annoying problems that I found is that once you found pieces that “interlocked,” there was no way for the pieces to stay “interlocked” and often “came apart” as you worked.
Overall, I was not impressed by this app. It is only 99 cents, but I would not recommend it to anyone, as there are too many bugs in the program and the interface is not user-friendly, especially for very young users.
--- J Cordis