Category Archives: Reviews

Hardware & Software Reviews

Kwik 3.0 Now Available

Last week, Kwiksher released their latest version of Kwik Photoshop plugin. I was fortunate enough to be part of the beta testing, and helped CEO Alex Souza discover some of the bugs before the final version was released.

Kwik v3

I was even able to release Maddie Bear’s Birthday for the iPad using the beta version of Kwik.

maddie bear's birthday

Kwik now is compatible with Corona SDK’s new storyboard tool called “Composer” as well as their new Graphics 2.0 anchor point system. It offers a revamped interface and a plethora of new features and settings that were not available in previous versions. You can now add monetization with iAds and AdMob, splash screens, in-app purchases if you’re a Corona Basic, Pro or Enterprise subscriber, and you no longer have to deal with the annoying task of enabling Adobe Flash to run the plugin.

kwik

Kwik has also switched over to a subscription business model to allow for more updates in order to keep up with the ever changing world of mobile app development. When Apple or Android make a change to their operating systems, Corona Labs has to follow suit, which in turn makes Kwiksher have to follow their lead.

There is also another huge benefit to their new subscription model. Let’s say you have an idea for a storybook app, but you’re not ready to make a huge investment in software in case your app doesn’t make you a lot of money or in case you just don’t end up liking app development. You can download the Corona Lab’s Starter Kit for free and then just do a 3, 6, or 12 month subscription to Kwik, depending on how long you’ll need it.

You can also have your script reviewed, have video chat support, and pretty soon, Kwiksher can even publish your app to all of the major app store for you via their services program.

My latest book, Maddie Bear’s Birthday, would have taken much, much longer to develop had I not used Kwik. It saved me days worth of coding. Check out my app at MaddieBearBooks.com to see what is possible with Kwik.

Maddie Bear's Birthday for iPad
Maddie Bear’s Birthday for iPad

Review: SketchBook Pro Digital Painting Essentials

I recently had the chance to read through SketchBook Pro Digital Painting Essentials by Packt Publishing. The book is an overview and how-to guide of Sketchbook Pro digital painting software by Autodesk. It’s written for the computer software version, but many of the tools and techniques may be transferred over to the iOS and Android versions as well, just the user interface will be different.

Copyright Packt Publishing
Copyright Packt Publishing

If you’ve wanted to try Sketchbook Pro, but were too intimidated or weren’t sure how to get started, this book is a great starting point. It goes through all of the tools and how to modify each one to suit your style of drawing and painting. The book covers everything from the interface to layers to sketch and coloring. It is an in-depth starter guide to Sketchbook Pro and how to get started with the software.

However, it is important to note that this book does not teach you how to create specific pieces of art. The book does tell you how the author created each part of a specific piece that is shown, but it does not give you any step-by-step drawing directions. If you’re looking for a book that takes you through the process of creating the artwork shown on the cover, this is not it. If you’re looking for a book to show you how to use and create the tools necessary to create works of art, this book is definitely worth checking out.

Overall, SketchBook Pro Digital Painting Essentials is a great starter book to anyone interested in using Sketchbook Pro. It gets right to the heart of the subject without presenting you with unrelated filler.

CreateSpace vs. Bookemon

As many of my regular readers know, I’ve created a few children’s book apps and am currently working on a new series. I took one of the books, “The Perfect Pillow“, and converted it into a paperback version through Bookemon.com. I liked Bookemon because there wasn’t a minimum order quantity, you could assemble your book on their website, and have a book ready to order in moments. However, I wasn’t thrilled about the price, nor was I happy that anyone could read the book in its entirety without purchasing it. That lead me to look for alternative publishing methods, one of which is CreateSpace.

CreateSpace is Amazon’s Print-On-Demand (POD) branch where indie authors can take their book, upload it to CreateSpace.com, and have it available to order through Amazon.com and CreateSpace.com. When a customer orders the book, CreateSpace prints it and then ships it out (Bookemon is also POD). This saves on costs since there aren’t a stack of books lying around that may or may not sell. I received the proof of my book from CreateSpace today, and would like to give you the pros and cons of both companies.

The Perfect Pillow
Bookemon (Top); CreateSpace (Bottom)

Pros

The advantage of using Bookemon (at least for children’s books) is that you can upload your finished artwork page-by-page to their website, drag and drop items as needed, and have it ready to go very quickly. The print quality is very nice with a thick glossy cover and pages that are also glossy and substantial to the touch. The learning curve is pretty small, I didn’t run into any major issues trying to figure out book assembly.

CreateSpace is great because it’s through Amazon, so you have an enormous potential customer base. They will also assign you an ISBN for free if you don’t already own one for your book. The card stock used for the cover is very similar to that used by Bookemon and you can choose glossy or matte. I’m also able to offer the book to customers for $5 less (shipped) through CreateSpace than I was through Bookemon. Also, if there are any mistakes in the book that will make it look bad when printed, each proof is looked at by someone at CreateSpace and you’ll receive a detailed report telling you what you need to fix. This was very helpful, I had issues the first two times I submitted my files.

Free ISBN provided by CreateSpace
Free ISBN provided by CreateSpace

Cons

I don’t like Bookemon because as I said before, it’s more expensive ($5 per book) than CreateSpace. I can’t see too many people willing to shell out $15+ for a small indie children’s book. Also, there’s no incentive to buy books from Bookemon since they let visitors read the entire book in the preview. Not sure why you’d pay for a book that you can read for free on the site that’s trying to sell it to you. You can avoid this by making the book private, but then you have to buy a bunch of books yourself upfront and hope you can sell them on your own.

The only issues I can see with CreateSpace is that it’s a little more difficult to get the book to them. There’s no option to upload images and assemble the book on their site, you have to export each page and then covert it into a single PDF file to upload. This might not be a big deal for a typical novel, but for something like a children’s book, it’s a bit of trial and error, especially when it comes to full-bleed cropping and print size. Also, after you approve the proof, it takes a week or so to show up on Amazon.com.

Differences

I originally drew the book at 1024×768, which is the resolution of an iPad 1 (the primary device I targeted back in 2011). For print sizes, I had to look for dimensions that were similar when exported at 300 dpi. Bookemon’s closest version is 7.75″x5.75″ and CreateSpace’s closest is 8.5″x6.25″.

Bookemon provides more of a true spine to the book whereas CreateSpace’s spine just looks like the card stock is bent around the interior pages. Bookemon prints at more of a true color of what you see on the computer screen and CreateSpace’s colors are darker. This is probably because you build the book on Bookemon’s site using an RGB profile and CreateSpace you need a PDF that’s print-ready at CMYK.

Bookemon’s pages are glossy and CreateSpace’s pages are a matte finish. I’m not sure which I prefer to be honest. The matte finish makes you feel like you’re turning real paper book pages and the glossy pages feel a little plasticky. With younger children, the glossy pages might be easier to clean sticky fingerprints off of though, so glossy might be better.

Bookemon (top) - Lighter colors, glossy finish ; CreateSpace (bottom) - Darker colors, matte finish
Bookemon (top) – Lighter colors, glossy finish ; CreateSpace (bottom) – Darker colors, matte finish

Verdict

Overall, I think I’m going to go with CreateSpace for my upcoming Maddie Bear book series. It allows me to offer the books at a better price to customers, the books can be found on Amazon.com, and you get a free ISBN. Now that I’m familiar with the CreateSpace publishing process, I think it’ll go more smoothly next time.

Poll

I’m considering writing a book that explains my process of writing/illustrating a children’s book and then converting it into an app and softcover book. Would this be something you’d be interested in reading?

Artist Review: Smudge Guard

After 5 years of using a hacked up $1 work glove (it was actually a dollar for the pair), I finally got a Smudge Guard glove to use with my Wacom Cintiq tablet. The question is, does it perform 15x better than the work glove to justify the $14.99 price tag?

Dollar Store work glove with 4 fingers cut off.

The benefit of using a pair of fabric work gloves is that if you take a pair of scissors and remove the thumb and first three fingers, you’ll end up with two gloves that you can use on your drawing hand. Also, it will only cost you a dollar plus sales tax. The disadvantage is that they probably won’t fit very well and let’s be honest, it looks pretty shoddy.

Smudge Guard Glove

The advantages of purchasing a Smudge Guard glove are that you’ll get a glove that is specific to the size of your hand and it will look and feel much more professional. The only disadvantage is the price. Many people have a hard time justifying $14.99 for what is essentially a mini sock for your pinky finger.

Both the work glove and the Smudge Guard are helpful in preventing your hand from sticking to a Wacom Cintiq screen. However, the Smudge Guard’s material feels much nicer on your skin and if you plan on drawing for hours each day, comfort is definitely a factor to consider. If you’re a serious digital artist, which you probably are if you’ve already made the $2000-$3600 investment for a Wacom Cintiq, it’s worth picking up a Smudge Guard in my opinion. It fits well and looks so much nicer than a hacked up work glove. 

Review: Kut by Kwiksher

A couple days ago, Kwiksher announced their new software called “Kut“. You may know of Kwiksher because of their innovative Photoshop plugin “Kwik”, which allows you to create Corona SDK apps without code. However, Kut isn’t a tool to create apps, it’s a Photoshop plugin to help you create artwork for numerous devices quickly. You are free to use Java, JavaScript, Lua, Objective-C, etc. to create the apps, Kut just helps with the graphics side, not the coding.

You might be asking why this would be helpful. Say you or your client want to create an app that will run on all iOS and Android devices. Well, you could create the artwork for retina iPads, shrink it down in Photoshop for non-retina, shrink it again for phones, and then repeat for Android, Kindle Fire, Nook, etc. or you could design everything in Photoshop one time and then let Kut do the rest for you. Let me show you what I mean.

First, I downloaded the free trial of Kut and installed it via the Adobe Extensions Manager. Then in Photoshop I opened the Kut panel.

Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 8.20.23 AM

Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 8.20.55 AM

I opened Kut’s settings and selected the devices I would like to support.

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I started a new Document. In this case, I chose iPad Retina as my starting device since it has one of the largest resolutions of 2048×1536.

Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 8.22.32 AM

Using different layers, I created a screen for a game that is sure to win numerous awards for fantastic artwork. I saved my .PSD file to a folder on my Desktop.

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Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 8.35.24 AM

I clicked the Publish button and got a popup window since it was my first time using Kut (in this instance, I wasn’t making an app icon, but Kut will create icons for your app if you want it to).

Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 8.38.01 AMSo I did as the pop up asked and pasted the code into Terminal.

Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 8.38.19 AMAnd just like that, I had artwork compressed and sized for every device.

Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 8.39.22 AMObviously had I purchased the full version, the watermark of “KUT KUT KUT KUT” would not be on each image. However, in mere moments, I was able to create artwork for a game for 8 different devices. This could normally take hours and Kut did it all in a click of a button. If you’re thinking about picking up Kut, buy it before December 31st and it’s only $19.99.

EDIT:

I decided to pick up the full license to remove the watermark. Kut is definitely very useful software for cross-platform development and for $19.99, you can’t go wrong. This time when I published out my artwork, I was given a developer’s report that is part of the full-version of Kut.

Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 11.14.17 AM

This is extremely useful for rebuilding the interface in your coding language of choice. Now not only do I know the dimensions of my artwork, I also know the exact coordinates to place them on the screen. If you’re reading this, you should stop now and download Kut, it’s a great tool that I’m going to be using a lot.

Overview: Mischief

I’m always looking for new software that makes creating mobile apps and artwork easier or even just makes the process more fun. Last night, I discovered Mischief drawing software, and I have to say, I’m pretty impressed. You can go to their website www.MadeWithMischief.com and download a free 15-day trial to test out for yourself. If you like it, a full license is only $65 USD.

So what is Mischief? I think it’s a cross-between Sketchbook Pro and Adobe Flash, which if you follow my blog and tutorials, you know I’m a huge fan of both (Flash CS6 at least, I’m still iffy about Flash CC). It has a user interface similar to Sketchbook Pro, but instead of bitmap, it’s vector-based, allowing you to zoom-in infinitely to draw the smallest details. Since it’s similar to Sketchbook Pro, the interface is very straightforward and not much is hidden in submenus up in the toolbar. It has the ability to export JPEG and .PSD files, so if you are a Photoshop user, you can enhance your artwork further. I’ll probably use the .PSD export feature to convert my files into .PNGs for mobile applications.

Although it isn’t necessary, they do recommend that you use Mischief with a drawing tablet to get the full-effect. This is true of just about all drawing software, though. If you’re fortunate enough to have a Wacom graphics tablet at your disposal, I think you’ll really enjoy using Mischief. Without even going into my Wacom preferences, Mischief already allowed my “Undo” shortcut button to function and pressure sensitivity works flawlessly. In all honesty, I think Mischief is more responsive to a drawing stylus than Adobe Flash.

If I had to list any negatives about Mischief, I would say it’s the lack of a paint bucket tool. I know it’s more geared towards artists who color in layers with different types of brushes, but I’m still a huge fan of being able to paint a large area with a single click. If they were to add a paint bucket tool, I might switch over completely from Flash to create artwork for mobile applications.

Overall, I would definitely recommend checking out Mischief if you like to draw. I know I’m going to be utilizing the 15 day trial as much as I can. Check out my demo video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjY-mzuArQs or watch it below.

Book Review: Corona SDK Hotshot

Today I’m going to review “Corona SDK Hotshot” by Nevin Flanagan, which is published by Packt Publishing. If you’re a regular Corona user, you’re probably well past the “Hello World” style tutorials that are available in most coding books, but you may not be ready for expert-level books, either. Corona SDK Hotshot is a great intermediate level book that assumes previous knowledge of the platform and lets you create 10 different game apps.

Corona SDK Hotshot

One thing that I noticed from this book that is different than most, is that the author first shows you how to layout your game idea. Instead of just throwing you into the coding, you first first think about what you want your game to do, how will it function, the screen order, etc. to properly plan out the app. This is good practice for new game developers to draft out their ideas and properly layout the game plan instead of just jumping right into coding and artwork.

Atmosfall

The variety of the games that you develop in the book is nice, ranging from tapping enemies before they get to a certain point, jet shooter-style, RPG, and even a translation app. I think my favorite example was chapter 5’s game, “Atmosfall” because it reminded me of “Vapor Trail” for Sega Genesis (I’m aware that I may be the only person that has ever played this game before). It’s a top-down view game of an aircraft that shoots enemies that also shoot at you, not a new concept, but still entertaining.

The examples aren’t just about the finished product, though. Through the process of building the games, you learn about integrating multiple touches, loading music, algorithms, Game Center, etc., which can help you build games that integrate these features and do not necessarily follow the examples given. Again, this book is not for total beginners who are new to Corona SDK, it assumes prior knowledge.

Overall, I thought this book was good from a standpoint of someone who understands Corona SDK and Lua and wants to create a variety of game types. I picked up the PDF version to read on my iPad while traveling and on my Macbook when I was ready to code. If you’re interested in creating gaming applications, it’s definitely worth checking out.

Kwik “Next”

Today, Kwiksher announced its upcoming software “Kwik Next”, or as it will officially be called, just “Kwik”. Kwik will offer a variety of improvements to the user experience, a new pricing system, and a plethora of new features. Kwik will now be on a subscription service rather than a one-time fee. Those familiar with Adobe CC, Corona SDK Pro, and Lanica software have probably noticed the recent trend of subscription software. I’m glad Kwiksher chose to switch to subscription because Corona SDK is constantly changing to keep up with the changes in the Android and iOS ecosphere, which means Kwiksher also has to constantly change. Now instead of having to buy a new version every time Apple decides to change the iOS standards, Kwik users will always have up-to-date software.

A Kwik software subscription also means that you can now do a 3-month plan in case you just want to quickly publish your book idea. A 3 month subscription is expected to go for $99 USD as of the time of this writing, which is a great price for indie developers and children’s book authors. A year subscription is expected to be priced at $249 and also gives you the ability to vote on the next feature you’d like to see implemented into the software.

Right now, Kwik is still in beta and looking for users to help test the software. Kwik 2 customers can join the beta team for about $149 USD. You may be asking why you’d want to pay to beta test software when most companies offer it for free. In this case, the $149 gets you a 15 month subscription to Kwik, which saves you about $200 ($249 for 12 months + $99 for 3 months – $149 Beta = $199) and this deal is only good until Corona Labs lifts the new storyboard NDA. The new version of Kwik will run on the officially supported Storyboard tool once it’s finished by Corona Labs, whereas Kwik currently runs on director. So this deal could last a day or it could last a couple months, it’s hard to say. Regardless, I joined the beta team as soon as I could, which brings me onto this next segment.

Installing the new Kwik

A lot of Kwik users had trouble getting the software setup initially, which Kwiksher has addressed with this new version. Now when you run the software, it takes you through step-by-step, and copies any text you’ll need to your clipboard for you.

installScreen Shot 2013-09-12 at 6.46.53 AM

Screen Shot 2013-09-12 at 6.46.57 AMScreen Shot 2013-09-12 at 6.47.08 AM Screen Shot 2013-09-12 at 6.47.11 AM Screen Shot 2013-09-12 at 6.47.14 AM Screen Shot 2013-09-12 at 6.47.18 AM

If at anytime you need assistance, you can click on the Help button and it will take you to a video tutorial of how to install it step-by-step. The Settings window now has an option for Colored Icons, which is a great new feature that I’ll show you momentarily.

Screen Shot 2013-09-12 at 6.47.50 AM

The new Kwik panel also has a built-in showcase for Kwik-made apps when it first opens. You only see the ad until you start a project or open an existing one. The panel also gives you easy access to pre-made templates if you’re new to Kwik and want to see what is possible. Your previous projects are also listed in the panel so you can quickly open any project you’ve worked on in the past.

Screen Shot 2013-09-11 at 8.38.51 PM

Now onto the colored icons. The colored icons allow you to quickly (kwikly?) see what interactions go with each group. Here we can see that Animations is a yellow group, so anything listed in yellow is an animation. Pink are related to Interactions, Purple are Physics, etc. This will be especially helpful to newer users. Now you won’t have to wonder where to go for say, Body Properties, you can see that they’re purple, so they must be under the purple Physics panel.

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Another new feature is the ability to search for items. In my first project test, I had a few interactions for ball objects. Rather than having to look throughout the Kwik panel for anything named “ball”, I could easily look for them using the new search tool.

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Another new method of searching for specify items is to look by the type of interaction or property you’ve assigned to it. Here I looked for anything that had a Physics Body.

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Those are just a few of the new features available right now in the new Kwik beta. If you’re hesitant to sign up now, you can still buy Kwik 2 until the end of September, which is not a subscription or you can wait until the final version of Kwik is released and download the free trial, which will allow you to create a few pages for free.

Screen Shot 2013-09-12 at 6.56.36 AM

Overall, I think the new Kwik looks and feels great to use and I’m very excited to see what Kwik will bring once Corona Labs releases their new storyboard tool. I think the subscription plans of $99-$249 have something to offer every indie developer regardless of budget and Kwik will be a great investment for children’s book authors.

App Review: DoInk

As many of you probably already know, Wacom announced their new mobile tablet line, which allows digital illustrators to draw on the go. This is a great idea, but many people aren’t too fond of being tied to Windows or Android operating systems, or dropping $1600-$2500 USD for the luxury to be mobile. Wacom also announced a pressure-sensitive stylus for the iPad for a more reasonable $100 USD, but it doesn’t have much of a benefit if your drawing app of choice doesn’t support it.

So lately I’ve been the hunt for a good drawing app that is similar to Adobe Flash and supports Wacom’s new stylus, does animation, vector lines, .PNG exporting, canvas resizing, and has features like pencil, paint brush and paint bucket. After downloading about 20 drawing apps, I’ve come to the conclusion it doesn’t exist or I still have yet to find it. A few I’ve tried are Sketchbook Pro, Sketchbook Ink, Adobe Ideas, Animation Desk, iDraw, Paper, Penultimate, Bamboo Paper, Skitch, Drawing Pad, Procreate, Artrage, ArtStudio, Inkist, and FlipInk.

Charles McKeever (@CoronaGeek) mentioned DoInk to me a few days ago, but before I bought another drawing app that didn’t fit the bill, I first decided to email the company who makes it. I asked if it supports individual .png exporting and Wacom’s new pen. To my surprise, DoInk is created by one developer who gave a prompt response saying those items were on his to-do list, but it’s difficult implementing everything he would like to see in the app. As an individual developer myself, I completely understand the balance of features you want to create and time available to do so.

I decided to give DoInk a shot, especially since I figured it’d be a fun app and it’d support a fellow indie app developer. The app is very similar to Adobe Flash, which was a great surprise. The lines aren’t vector, but they’re still pretty crisp and there is paint bucket support. The user interface is pretty intuitive, as soon as I opened the app I was able to draw a character and animate him. Once you have your animation drawn, you can overlay it on top of a background drawing, a pre-made background, or even a picture from your camera roll. Then when your scene is setup, you can export the video to your camera roll. From there you can send it to your DropBox or even edit it in iMovie.

So is DoInk the drawing app I’ve been searching for? Not really, it doesn’t support .png exporting or Wacom’s pen yet. Is it a lot of fun to use? Yes, it’s nice being able to create Flash-like animations on the go. Honestly, I think I might be stuck to sitting at a desk when it comes to drawing artwork for my apps, but DoInk is definitely a great app when you want to animate away from your computer chair. If you’re looking for a good animation app, definitely pick this one up.

App Review: Scouting Thomas

As a father of a 13-month old, I’m always looking for new children’s apps that she’ll be interested in now and ones that she might have interest in years from now. It’s actually the reason I wrote, illustrated, and programmed the Colin Turtle children’s book series. I recently stumbled across a new app called “Scouting Thomas” through social media and I was instantly interested by the great artwork style.

Scouting Thomas

Opening the app, I was immediately impressed by the well-animated intro sequence of Thomas and Buddy roasting marshmallows.  I tapped on the animation, and Buddy’s marshmallow burst into flames and Thomas quickly put out the flames using a fire extinguisher. It was cute, funny, and being an animator and app developer myself, I was impressed that there was such fluid animation on a splash screen of an app.

The next screen I visited was the Jokes & Game page. Here you can tap on Buddy and watch him tell kid-friendly jokes to Thomas. The jokes are a bit corny and might be slightly too sophisticated for very young children, but I think kids in the demographic that Flying Monkey Pie Productions are aiming for, will enjoy the humor. The games screen offers a crossword, Scrabble-like game where users can solve questions by jumbling supplied letters. Here I was impressed that the app offered a game, a joke screen and an introduction animation without making the app running the least bit slowly on my iPad. The only qualms I had thus far were that the kids didn’t speak, you have to read everything yourself, and the controls to the game were a bit clunky. While moving letters around to solve a puzzle, you had to make sure that there wasn’t a letter in the space to where you wanted to move it, otherwise the letters would overlap in the same space. I would have liked to see the letters shift down one space to make puzzle-solving quicker and easier.

Scouting Thomas 2

One part I did enjoy was that after reading all of Buddy’s jokes, you get rewarded with a scout badge. Throughout the app, you can earn different badges for completing various tasks. I think kids would enjoy being rewarded for going through each part of the application and performing different actions.

Scouting Thomas Badges

Next, I visited the how-to section. This section is an interactive portion that shows you how to make a contraption that shoots out marshmallows. You drag the parts on the screen connecting them, and when you’re done, you know how to make your own marshmallow shooter. You also earn another scout badge for completing the contraption in the app. I didn’t have the parts needed, so I did not get to test out actually making the marshmallow shooter. Could be a fun weekend project when my daughter is loder though.

There is also a theater section where you can watch a short animated film. I was really impressed by this because the animation is fluid and the frame-rate never dropped. I was probably more impressed by the theater than most people would be that purchase the app, but it’s probably because I know how difficult it can be to make a great animation and also have it play well on a mobile device.

There is a comic book section as well, where you can tap on each panel of a comic strip and have the speech balloons appear. This is where I would have really liked to hear the kids actually speaking, but I’m well-aware of the costs of professional voice actors, so I wasn’t terribly surprised by the lack of kids’ voices. Still, I think it’s what could have taken this app from being great to being a fantastic experience.

Overall, I am still amazed by how much the creators were able to fit into a single mobile app and not only that, to keep the quality of the work so high. Kids will love this app because of all of the different activities, and adults will be surprised by the high level of quality that the app displays. Pick this app up if you’ve got little ones and want to keep them entertained.

iTunes