Disney Mobile Turns the iPad Into a Racetrack for Toy Cars

Disney is launching a new line of toys that can turn the Apple iPad into a game board.

The first game in what could become a series of so-called Disney Appmates is focused on characters from the movie “Cars 2.”

In a live demonstration, Bart Decrem, general manager of Disney Mobile, showed me how it works.

First, he placed a miniature car on the iPad’s screen to create a bond with the game — no Bluetooth or wires needed.

As Decrem moved the toy car across the screen, the game reacted: Cars skidded out in the mud, knocked over buildings and honked their horns, startling tractor-shaped cows.

The game is supposed to react precisely to a player’s movements, and during Decrem’s short demonstration it did, for the most part. For example, as he approached a mirror in the game, he was able to see the reflection of the car he was holding.

“There’s a generation of kids who are growing up on the [iPad] platform,” Decrem said. “Kids used to come home from school and watch the Disney Channel, and while they still are, now kids are coming home and playing on their iPad and iPod touch.”

Decrem said the game was developed for boys around the age of six who really enjoy knocking things over.

The mobile game is being developed in conjunction with the company’s consumer products division, which will start selling the Appmates on Oct. 1 in stores, including the Apple Store and Disney Store.

Initially, four “Cars 2” characters will be sold: Lightning McQueen, Tow Mater, Finn McMissile and Holley Shiftwell. Each two-pack will cost $20. The game is free to download.

Each character from the movie will unlock different features and content within the game. For instance, Holley Shiftwell — the international spy from England, recognizable as the female purple racing car — says things like, “You don’t get any tumbleweeds in London.”

Players can just drive around and explore the world of Radiator Springs, or they can take it a little more seriously by completing tasks such as racing around a track or collecting hubcaps, which is the game’s virtual currency. The coins can then be spent on upgrading to new horns or headlights, which will appear at nighttime.

The concept of placing a physical object on the iPad to play a game is still relatively new, but represents a new business model for game makers, who are looking to monetize free games.

My colleague Katherine Boehret tested a device earlier this year that allows users to play a board game on the iPad. Similar to Disney’s concept, the Duo by Discovery Bay Games sits on the iPad screen and uses a built-in light sensor on its underbelly to play a board game.

The Appmates line is the first in a series of physical accessories that Disney is working on for the iPad.

Other products include an iPad case featuring a “Cars” design ($50), a Disney Pix Camera that allows kids to take pictures and create iPad albums ($80), and a microphone that enables kids to sing karaoke to their favorite Disney tunes ($60 for a wired microphone and $100 for a wireless mic).

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