Clear to-do app creators Impending and Realmac today announced Hatch, a Tamagotchi-esque digital pet for the iPhone launching this Spring. It's a radical departure from the two companies' previous collaboration, a colorful and innovative to-do app, but Hatch's sensibilities are similar. Just as Impending and Realmac redefined interactions on the iPhone with Clear, they hope to do the same with digital pets. "I think 'digital pets' are a timeless thing, and they just need a fresh name," Impending co-founder Phill Ryu says. In Hatch you look after a "fugu" born form an egg — an imaginary land-bound puffer fish that reacts to your touches, as well as to the various sensors on your iPhone and even your battery life. "It's the first app that loves you back," says Impending co-founder and digital illustrator David Lanham.
"Hatch just integrates into your life," Ryu says. "When you wake up and unplug your phone, your fugu is fully rested." As my phone started running low on battery towards the latter half of the afternoon I tested Hatch, I noticed that my fugu started yawning. One time I opened Hatch while I was listening to music and found my fugu bopping its head to the music. It's the little things like this that make Hatch special. The fugu's eyes fixate on an apple as you hold one above its head. Throw the apple aside (or sell it in the in-game shop) and your creature's eyes well up in disappointment. Hatch evokes similar emotions as Pixar's meticulously crafted and charming monsters; if you leave your fugu alone for a while, the look on its face is going to make you feel horrible.
Hatch evokes similar emotions as Pixar's charming monsters and toys
Like the Tamagotchis of yore, Hatch requires a bit of attention. I remember scurrying to the elementary school bathroom to ensure my Tamagotchi wasn't dead every twenty minutes, and Hatch is no different. Your fugu eats. It wags its tail when it's happy, and will clamber up and lick the screen if it's happy enough. Hatch feels like a combination between The Sims and Tamagotchi, where a couple bars represent hunger and happiness levels, and there's no end goal in sight. I still found myself neglecting my usual set of "I'm bored" apps in favor of fooling around with Hatch to see what my fugu would do next. To Ryu, Hatch is a game, but is also art — a personal storytelling medium born on the iPhone. A whole bag of tricks are in its repertoire, though I can't go into too much detail just yet.
I'm left wondering, though — is there still a market for digital pets? Do we have the time to nurture one of these things each and every day? "These things go way back." Ryu says. "The Tamagotchis of the 18th century were clockwork automatons that would go on tour and mystify audiences. A clockwork pooping duck once toured all the royal courts of Europe to standing ovations, but now, we can aim for something more ambitious and delightful. And we have the pooping covered too."