Hatch: A Virtual Pet That Lives On Your Smartphone

The new iPhone app from the makers of Clear is designed “to love you back.”

What do you do for a follow-up to one of the most popular, innovative, well-reviewed productivity apps of 2012? Well, the designers of Clear have definitely zigged where they could have zagged: They made a virtual pet. You read that right–Hatch is essentially a tamagotchi app for your iPhone. What does it do? It’s cute. That’s it. But comparing Hatch to other smartphone pets would be like comparing gorgonzola cheese to Kraft singles–the cuteness on display here may literally overwhelm your senses.


The teaser video makes the appeal of Hatch–and the “problem” it’s designed to “solve”–cheekily clear. There’s something about your iPhone, the narrator purrs. You shower it with attention throughout the day. And holding it makes you smile … “The smartphone is the 21st-century pet, and we are just making that crystal clear with Hatch,” Phill Ryu, Hatch’s co-creator, tells Co.Design. “A great pet relationship is already there, and we’d like to bring that out.”

But Hatch isn’t just a pixelated black-and-white tamagotchi–it’s a virtual pet redesigned for an age of smartphones with fast processors and Retina-quality screens. The pet itself is a hand-drawn, manga-style animated character who looks like it jumped straight out of a Miyazaki film. The warm, Saturday-morning-cartoon-like animation style instantly sets your mind back to childhood, priming you for an emotional experience that you probably haven’t had with a toy or pet since you were under the age of 10. “I think [the animation style] almost feels more alive in Hatch to have your imagination fill in the blanks between David [Lanham, Hatch’s co-creator and animator]’s frames instead of a computer smoothly rendering and interpolating every frame and pixel smoothly,” Ryu explains.

And that character design! If the word SQUEEE! can be distilled into pure visuals, Hatch has done it. You will be powerless in its thrall–and that is exactly the intent, says Ryu: “We wanted that same visceral reaction you get when you see a really cute helpless puppy or kitten … the kind where you can’t help but stoop down and start cooing, awwing, your voice pitching up.” And then the damn thing licks the screen, destroying all your higher mental functions in one fell swoop. (“[That] was by far my favorite feature of Nintendogs, and made me squeal in delight the first time I experienced it,” Ryu admits. “We stole that from the best.”)

Hatch’s design is literally undeniable: I hated the idea of a useless virtual pet, and yet there I was, staring in a slack-jawed, oxytocin-soaked stupor at the collection of pixels I adopted. (Yes, I couldn’t resist.) Is it going to change the world? No. But will it warm your heart? Yes. Resistance is futile.

[Hatch is launching in 2013 but you can “adopt” a pet for free now.]

About the author

John Pavlus is a writer and filmmaker focusing on science, tech, and design topics. His writing has appeared in Wired, New York, Scientific American, Technology Review, BBC Future, and other outlets.