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Play-Doh's about to meet your iPad. Yes, that Play-Doh. Hasbro's 60 year old brand is getting its first iOS app and a new connected play kit called Play-Doh Touch. And it's kinda, sorta, a scanner for kids. But maybe it's also Hasbro's newest way of trying to explore app-enabled gaming.

The Play-Doh Touch Shape to Life Studio, coming to Apple stores today, is a set of familiar Play-Doh mini-tubs, along with some shapes and enough bits and pieces that kids could just play like they always do. But it also comes with a plastic tray that acts as the scanning surface. The Play-Doh Touch app, created by the development team that created Monument Valley, uses the iPhone or iPad camera to take a quick picture and scan in the creation. The result then turns into a semi-3D, semi-2D onscreen creation, complete with wiggly limbs and googly eyes, with a pretty uncanny success rate. I've been playing around with the kit at the office, and it's entertaining...but it could have done more. Maybe it will.


Scanning my triceratops in.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Little Play-Doh tubs, plastic stamps, cookie-cutter shapes -- it's all familiar to me as a dad. But the extra white platter that comes with the Shape to Life Studio, that's new. So is the iPad app, of course. I launch it, scan my little Play-Doh figure into a game I'm playing. Now my pink triceratops is hopping around and making eyes at me.

Connect an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, download the app, and the set works almost like a junior scanner -- but one with serious limits.

You can't do all that much with your Play-Doh Touch creation right now, other than have it hop and squiggle through explorational worlds. There's some customization in the form of scanning in things that can decorate the background. I covered the landscape with orange leaves. Then I added my MetroCard, which also scanned in just fine. You could conceivably use Play-Doh Touch's app without using Play-Doh at all.

Some of the cut-out shapes and creature molds included can unlock features in the game, such as extra worlds, characters or hidden easter eggs. Using the pieces that way, Play-Doh Touch feels a bit like preschool Skylanders. But the nice thing about Touch is that it uses free-form creative materials. Take away the iPad or iPhone app, and it's still a regular Play-Doh set.


What if it could do more than connect to a game, though?

Sarah Tew/CNET

It's cute and it's fun. And other people I showed it to found it charming. It's not a full 3D scanning tool but sometimes it feels surprisingly close, and that's what's so fascinating about it. Play-Doh Touch approaches the edges of what could be a kid-accessible scannable future. It reminded me of the 3D Paint and phone-scanning apps that Microsoft showed off a week ago, but in a preschool realm.

Play-Doh's app uses your creations for gameplay purposes, though, and pretty limited ones at that. But maybe the future will go beyond that. I'd love to see a repository of scanned objects that kids could turn into art or animation. Hasbro's Play-Doh Touch creators wouldn't confirm what was coming next, but it sounded like what I was discussing wasn't too far off base. We may be headed for a camera-ready augmented world pretty soon...and it might be coming from a lot of directions at once. Even Play-Doh.