Marble Jar: A review of the new goal setting app

July 24, 2011 at 11:48 am
filed under Review, Tech

A representative from Marble Jar sent me an email about 2 weeks back asking if I could review their new app for the iPhone and iPad. After a bit of back and forth getting me a promo code for the app and my little holiday to beat the heat with Jack in my parents’ air conditioned home, I am back at home and ready to write the review.

I’m writing this as I play with the app on my iPad. I don’t have an iPhone so this review will focus on the iPad experience.

It’s disappointing that the app is optimized for use on the iPhone as opposed to the iPad. As such, it is a phone sized display on a black background, the text input is phone sized as well. I evidently need to cut my nails as I kept hitting the wrong letters while logging in. It also does not change orientation. My preferred iPad orientation is landscape and it is only offered in portrait.

Creating an account is an easy process and once logged in, I am taken to my ‘shelf’ where there are already some jars with example goals, such as ‘calm mom’ and ‘morning routine’ to inspire my own goals. These can be edited or I can add a new jar if I need to.

marble jar

At the bottom of the app screen, there are 3 icons – tips, add jar, and settings. Tapping on ‘tips’ brings me to a screen where I can learn how to use the app. I’m not sure if this is because of the iPhone size on iPad or not but when I tap on any of the 3 options: ‘Parenting on Track’, ‘Using Marble Jar’, or ‘Setting up a Jar’, I am only provided with a partial ‘tip’, it ends in mid-sentence and no amount of tapping or scrolling gets me any more info. The ‘Shake to Refresh’ instruction doesn’t seem to work either. I’ve given this iPad shakes ranging from the delicate to the hardy and nothing refreshes.

I suppose I could go to the website to find out how to use it but I really shouldn’t have to.

So I start to play around with adding a jar and creating goals and actions. It is pretty easy to figure out, though it took me 2 tries to realize that I could slide a slider to a max of 30 to require more than one marble to fill my marble jar :) Once a jar is filled, there is a little audio celebration.

And that is pretty much it. All in all – not a great app for the iPad as

a) it doesn’t seem to work properly (missing parts of tips, no shake to refresh action)
b) it is really too small for the iPad.

The overall concept of creating goals with actions to achieve those goals is a nice one. I can see some kids really liking the idea of getting to put a marble into a virtual jar on their parent’s phone as an action is achieved as opposed to having to wait until they got home to a real life marble jar. However it is too easy to put in more than one marble by accident (I did it twice while playing with it just now) and a real, physical jar of marbles (or bag of marbles if one wants to keep it in a purse) that we can touch and see is more motivating. Kids like to touch and hold. It makes the attainment of goals more tangible.

So all in all, I’m not a huge fan of this app and won’t be using it. But you should play with it for yourself, it may be for you. It will cost you $2.99 in the iTunes app store, link at the top of the page.

10 comments

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  1. Kevin Hodgson

    on July 24, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    I appreciate the honest.
    :)
    Kevin

  2. Tracy

    on July 24, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    Hi Kevin, I did really try to like it! It felt good to be asked to review an app…wonder if I’ll ever be asked again ;)

  3. Anna Palmer

    on July 26, 2011 at 11:18 am

    Tracy,

    Thank you for taking the time to review my app marble jar. I was sorry to read that you were disappointed in your experience.

    There are a few tips I can give you and your readers to make it better as I work to build an iPad optimized version of the app.

    I would recommend hitting the 2x button to enlarge the app to the full size of the iPad screen, this is how my four year old uses it…it eliminated the black bars and makes the key board twice as large.

    Additionally you can tap the “shake the refresh” button on the tips screen to see use tips and parenting suggestions. I will relabel the button with my first update next week. That should prevent anyone from shaking his/her phone so hard that it flies across the room!

    I would love to hear whether of not you tried it with your kids. As I iron out the technical wrinkles I would be curious whether or not your kids respond to the app as much as mine have.

    Last night at dinner my 6 year old proposed that we build a “donation” jar where we can add marbles for each dollar that he gives away to our local King Street Youth center here in Burlington Vermont. I liked the idea but thought he was finding a loop hole..(he would donate the money but at the end ask for a toy of his choice.) When I asked him what his celebration would be when the jar was full he replied: “You would buy me a star wars lego toy….to give to the kids there.”

    It is as a framework for conversations like this one (initiated by my kid) that I find value in the app. Amongst our morning routine jars, and sleepover jars you will find “healthy choices”, “happy earth” and as of this morning: “donations.” What a great way to practice growing into the people that we hope to be.

    I hope you and your readers give the app a try. I will let you know when it is optimized for iPad for sure!

    Thanks again

    Anna

  4. Tracy

    on July 26, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    Hi Anna and thanks for your response!

    Thanks also for sharing that story about your son and his idea for a donation jar. Anything that helps lead our children to conversations like that one is wonderful! I’m still not convinced that the app is any more motivating than consistent use of non-electronic reward systems, though.

    My son is 6 months old so no, I haven’t used it with him yet :) I am a teacher who uses apps and other electronic media with my students and I based my thoughts on how I have seen them react to other apps. Based on that experience, I’m not sure if it is something I’d want to try with them – mainly because I do not see why it is better than other non-electronic methods for goal setting. Perhaps when I see the app optimized for the iPad I will think differently.

    Some final notes….

    I did try the 2x button however it led to poor image quality (all pixel-y) so I decided to continue to use it in it’s normal mode.

    Tapping the ‘shake to refresh’ button works, though still provides only a partial tip – cut off mid sentence.

    I look forward to seeing it when it is optimized for the iPad. As it is now, it is more of a frustrating experience with the iPad than not.

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  6. ES

    on July 26, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    In our household, we’ve only used this app on our iPhones since we don’t have an iPad. So far the kids are having fun with the digital jars vs our real marble jar (ok, it’s not a jar, it’s an old glass pitcher). As we know, for better or worse, kids love the screen. One potential advantage for us is that now our jar can be portable, as long as we have the iPhone with us. That’s a pretty solid idea. I need to make a jar for myself for going to the gym.

  7. Tracy

    on July 26, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    Hi ES and welcome to Leading from the Heart!

    It’s always nice to see another perspective – while I prefer the real to the virtual some will prefer the virtual to real :)

  8. Anna Palmer

    on July 26, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    If you scroll the tip screens down you can read the full tip. I guess I should add an arrow? Thanks for trying. I’m sorry it was frustrating.

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  10. ES

    on July 27, 2011 at 9:22 am

    Hi Tracy –

    Keep up the good work! I enjoy subscribing to this blog.

    Thanks again!