If you’ve got kids, you’re probably well-versed in reading them a little story before they head off to the land of marshmallow clouds. But equally, if you’re a working mum or dad, you may often miss out on putting them to bed, either due to being tethered to the office, or staying away for the night for a company shindig.
Now, a London-based company is looking to tackle this problem with a new video-calling app that lets you read e-books to them in real-time. Caribu for iPad was quietly launched in the App Store earlier this month, and following a series of tweaks and bug fixes, the final ‘ready’ version is live now.
If you’re thinking this sounds familiar, well, you’re correct. Back in September, we covered a company called Ustyme that rolls video-calling in along-side games and children’s books. And before that, there was Kindoma Storytime, which is probably the most closely aligned with Caribu. Yes, it seems that while Caribu was in development last year, they got pipped by at least two other companies with similar ambitions.
However, following a successful pitch, Caribu was accepted onto the Microsoft Ventures accelerator program back in December, and they may have a few other tricks up their sleeves that could see them head in interesting directions.
But first, what exactly is Caribu?
How it works
Once you’ve created your account, you’ll be presented with what’s basically a blank screen and a single book. Your first move should be to add your contacts – so you will need to ensure everyone who requires access has an iPad and an account with Caribu. You add contacts using email addresses.
The idea here is that you can add multiple contacts to a family iPad – granny, granddad, mum, dad, auntie Mary and uncle Bill.
When you place the video call, you’ll see a screen for each participant, and a virtual bookshelf – one for you, and one for the other person.
Now, you only get one book for free – at the time of writing, that’s Lucas the Lion, written by Ben Mallett, who’s Managing Director and one of the four founders. The Caribu Bookshop contains around ten books just now, including material from children’s picture book publisher Maverick Arts, each costing $2.99 (£1.99). However, you can use any book from any of the callers – which means that you only have to buy a book once.
As with Kindoma Storytime, whenever you point to something in the book, it will highlight that same part on the other end. So let’s say you want to point to the lion and make a ‘rooaar’ noise, you can do so and little Jimmy will see what you’re pointing at.
You can also instigate a Skype-like calling experience by making it full-screen, say, before you settle down to read a book. Or you can make it read-only, so that the video windows disappear, which would be best used for when you’re actually in the same room as each other.
Given that Caribu relies on iPads, it may actually preclude many families from participating. An iPhone-optimized version would make sense in many ways, even though the restricted screen real estate isn’t ideal – but on the parent’s side, it wouldn’t matter too much. Or at the very least, an Android version given the growing popularity of affordable Android tablets.
However, there’s plenty of scope for differentiation here. While Mallett was careful not to give too much away around their future plans, he did allude to the potential for adding some educational features, allowing parents/grandparents to “educate beyond just reading”. So more interaction, with a little gamification thrown into the mix.
“This app is about bringing families together through technology, and allowing them to share important moments in their days, wherever they are in the world,” he says.
Mallett confirms an Android version will be on the cards in the coming months, while a Web app will be happening at some point too. Also, as part of the Microsoft Ventures’ accelerator program, they will be building some good contacts and learning some new tricks, so this will be one to watch.Microsoft, Skype, Caribu…I’m not sure which direction this could head, but there’s room for some kind of tie-in.
For now, however, it will likely have to play second-fiddle to those who made it to market before them. But if Caribu can go truly cross-platform and ramp up its book offerings significantly, it stands a fighting chance.
Caribu is available to download for free now, with additional books costing $2.99 through in-app purchases.