Why is there a tunnel under Fullerton Hotel?
A. It was used by postmen to bring mail to ships in the 1930s
B. To organise giant hide-and-seek parties
C. To hide people during World War II
Of course, we wish the answer were B, but it is in fact A - the tunnel stretched out all the way to the sea for postal boats to collect and deliver mail. That's one fun fact about Singapore that the creators of TopoTogo hope to teach kids, whether they're locals, expatriates or tourists.
Created by a team of "mothers, fathers and kids at heart", TopoTogo is a book and app bundle that teaches children aged between 6 and 12 more about Singapore's heritage and cultural spots.
Both carry four different languages: English, Simplified Chinese, French and Japanese. The book is sold at $18.90 and comes with a "TopoCard" that allows users to unlock the app, available on both Android and iOS.
We decided to test out the app, to see if what is has in store for parents and kids.
How It Works
What's interesting about the app is that it's dubbed as being "2-in-1" - serving as both a travel guide app for parents, and an edutainment app for kids. However, this dual functionality also seems to require more space on your device - on my Android smartphone, the app takes up 228MB. Once downloaded though, TopoTogo works offline, making it especially convenient for tourists.
The main page of the app displays a colourful map of Singapore with popular tourist spots that kids can click on. One neat feature is the time machine on the bottom right of the screen, that allows you to go all the way back to 1810 to get a glimpse of which attractions didn't exist then.
It's a very basic feature for now, but there is potential for it to be expanded to show more of how Singapore has evolved over the years. And the cute sound that come with turning the knob definitely appeals to the 6-year-old in me.
I've also decided to use TopoTogo to explore the Thian Hock Keng temple and was slightly underwhelmed to find out that this exploration was restricted to a static, aerial view. Nevertheless, there is a magnifying tool that lets you zoom over certain features. The background music and sound effects are impressive as well.
At each destination, kids have to spot an orange umbrella. Tapping it brings up Lily, the TopoTogo hostess, who explains the history of the place and also challenges kids to find one of her family members in the location.
Tapping other features on the screen, such as the walls of the temple and the statues, brings up short explainers as well.
One shortcoming at this point is the lack of clear signposts indicating where users can click to get this information. Perhaps this absence of signposts is meant to allow for serendipitous discovery, but it does get a little frustrating to keep tapping all over the screen in the hopes of bringing up something.
Parents may also find it challenging to get their kids to use this app on-site, when the screen doesn't exactly match what the surroundings.
At the same time, the app has its strengths in education and entertainment value. Even I picked up some new facts from TopoTogo, on why some trees grow sideways, and how Singapore monitors the health of its trees with identity cards:
Another strength is the ease in navigating between features. The button on the top right helps you navigate the children's side of the app, while that on the top left takes you to the parents' menu.
This section of the app features travel tips for parents, including recommendations for food places and information on the nearest hospitals. Parents can also choose from a few trails that suggest child-friendly places to visit and dine at for the day.
However, the information available listed on the app thus far is somewhat limited, the listings consisting of attractions and restaurants that are already well-known, and may not be suitable for families travelling on tight budgets.
In this case, dedicated travel guides and apps may be more comprehensive resources for parents looking for hidden gems or more economical options.
In its current form, TopoTogo is greatly suited for kids, and would especially be of interest to those coming to Singapore for the first time.
The app runs smoothly, with minimal loading times and easy navigation between the different functions. The graphics and sound design are also pleasing - with adorable characters and well-placed sound effects.
However, the parents' section of the app can be stocked with better resources, perhaps even allowing for crowdsourced recommendations on the most child-friendly tourist spots in Singapore.
While the concept of serving both kids and parents at the same time is certainly novel, it has yet to be fully realised on TopoTogo.