Try giving an iPhone, iPad or Android or just about any other smartphone device to a child. What will happen? A kid will quickly get into grips and play with the device and will sure enough enjoy themselves. Plenty of market researches have been conducted around parents allowing their children to use their mobile devices. For example, according to Nielsen report, children use tablets:
77% – to play downloaded games
57% – for educational purposes
55% – for entertainment while traveling.
The truth is that education is rapidly moving towards greater interactivity and going mobile. As a possibility to study anyplace anytime, eLearning is becoming enormously popular nowadays. Educational games for toddlers, pre-schoolers and the older children are greatly admired by the mobile device owners. However, the second statement is that the educational app market is booming and further growth is expected. Almost everyone with relevant experience is trying their luck at developing an app for children. And booming means competitive, yes. So you should do your best if you want to stay on top of the market.
What’s our story?
During Lemberg’s growth, we started thinking about a new interesting market niche for product development. And we set our eyes on the educational app market. Why? The answer is simple: almost all of us have children and we know that they like to play with different mobile devices, just like many other kids do. And we thought: why not create a set of educational apps that will help small kids develop basic skills?
Then we took on several new team members (like the graphic designer) and started the ball rolling. In 2011, our company launched a project called EduKidsApps. It’s a set of educational games for kids of different age.
First of all, we decided to start with an educational app that would help small kids learn to spell. And after a month of development, an educational, cross-platform and multilingual game called Smart Speller was ready for launch. Today this app is available for both iOS and Android powered devices. The game has 13 language versions: English, German, Italian, French, Spanish, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Finnish, Polish, Russian, Ukrainian (on the Android Market).
Why educational apps?
If you decide to develop apps for children, you will probably have to make a choice: either you become a game developer (which usually means developing apps for entertainment) or start out as an educational apps developer. We chose to become an educational apps team. Games development, in our opinion, is a kind of a “matter of fashion” business (which means short-term existence of a product and occasional success). Educational apps development offers long term relationship with your customers and it’s more risk free business. What is more, for parents, educational value is usually the most important criteria when choosing a kids’ app.
As we decided to develop an educational application, we started to think about the story and the idea. Using all our imagination (and our children’s help and inspiration, by the way), we created an attractive educational product. Let’s take a closer look at our experience!
Concept: be original!
We focused our attention on the educational value of our apps. By playing the Smart Speller, kids learn to spell their first words, enrich their vocabulary and improve their skills at the same time (language and pronunciation, visual, motor skills, problem solving skills).
In the Smart Speller, we used a tale: kids are invited to help the Sun. Sunny lost his rainbow and children can help him find it! Of course, only if they put letters in the correct order (with hints in the easy level, without hints on the medium level and with extra letters for the hard level). When a word is written correctly, a coloured drop is added to a jar. And word by word, level by level the rainbow is coming back. Creating a story app increases kids’ engagement in the game. Attractive design and beautiful sound are important, too, of course. As for the Smart Speller, both pictures and sounds are original and of high quality.
Our advice is: unique selling point is important. In EduKidsApps, we chose educational value and original IP (artwork, sounds) to be our remarkable features. You can choose whatever you want, but you should be original!
Reusable assets. Use all your efforts to develop an application so you can reuse its elements for the new products. Reusable assets (including code, artwork, sounds) will help you reduce development time of future applications.
Multi-platform solution. If you’re developing a multi-platform solution, you’d better start with a less competitive market (like Android and Windows Phone markets for the educational apps). If you start with a market where competition is stronger, your will have less chances for success.
Get out of the box and test on your audience: get your kids’ help! We let our children be the first users of the Smart Speller, and through using this approach we’ve got an immediate feedback from our direct clients before even releasing the application. And what can be better?
Avoid rework with a smart plan! If you want to succeed and you’re not up to remodeling your app time and again, you should follow these simple steps:
1. always start with prototype development (creating a screen flow)
2. UX testing process
3. producing a graphic design
4. application development
UX for kids is an important field of work. Creating nice graphics, pleasing sounds and an interesting story is not enough. You should pay attention to the easy, child-friendly navigation interface of the app. Don’t overload every screen with menu buttons, social plugins (facebook, twitter), banners or ads. It will be a huge mistake, because kids usually tend to touch everywhere on the screen. And if they log out of the game (to visit your Facebook page, for example), it may be a problem for them to get back.
When we are talking about child mode for an app, we mean that some buttons on the screen (i.e., menu button) should be accessible for the parents only (for unlocking, you can use special gestures, double-click etc).
There are option for a business model to choose from: free, paid apps or apps with in-application purchase (lite versions). Free educational apps won’t bring you success. As our experience shows, lite versions are more likely to be successful than paid apps. For the Smart Speller, we used the in-application purchase model (one category of the game is open, but to get the full version, one must buy it).