I would like to announce that, due to the recent changes that were mentioned last week, as of April 1 I will no longer be the editor and writer for the parents' and children's section of 148Apps. Being a mother of a seven year old boy who is interested in building and S.T.E.M. related apps, I will still be purchasing applications for our personal use. Having reviewed children’s educational apps for the last four and a half years has given me some experience in gauging whether an app will be a hit with my family, so please allow me to share these insights.
Before even judging the content of an application, the first place that I look when deciding to make a download is whether or not it includes in-app purchases. With a few noted exceptions, a wave of disappointment comes over me when an app that I was interested in includes these extras. I would like to make note for developers out there that the ability to take a “peek before buying” does not interest me nearly as much as they may think - however counter-intuitive this may be. I value the chance to see screen shots that are not available via the iTunes notes for in-app purchases, and reviews or videos are few and far between for additional content that one pays for. For me, the idea of downloading something for free or a cost with the added need to purchase remaining content after the fact while being left hanging comes across as disingenuous and distasteful.
Likewise, I find advertising contained within apps - including related applications from the same developer that can easily be found by child users - to be equally undesirable. Have faith in the adults who buy your wares that they will continue to do so with an easy search through iTunes to find related apps by the same developer. It is not worth alienating families as no one wants to hear their children beg for a new paid app - especially after purchasing the related storybook or game. Instead, please tuck these ads in a locked parents' section.
Although it is hard to know an app’s system of rewards when making a purchase, I am eager to search out those applications that respect children’s screen time by not including an over-use of avatars, badges, and stickers to congratulate a child on completing a level of an activity; this can cause a fractured experience that takes away from the app at hand. Trust that your child audience will find engaging gameplay reward enough and focus on playable content rather than these unwelcome extras.
Having mentioned the mental blocks and other disappointments I have found within applications, let me also explain what excites me when I take a look at an app for the first time.
Please let your apps be beautiful - be it a lush palette of colors, a use of interesting muted tones, or a thoughtful use of black, white, and shades of grey. The visual quality of an application is obviously important. My favorite apps have created a style all their own that is instantly recognizable instead of reminding me of free “Clip Art”.
Hire professionals for any narration you would like to include. Again, with a few noted exceptions, the majority of people (including the authors of their own storybooks) don’t have the diction nor the talent to pull off the voice heard throughout a project. Ambient sound effects and a subtle use of music are your friend, as a truly silent app - even one designed to be read by oneself - can be quite disconcerting. Even better, allow readers to adjust the volume on these elements independent of each other.
Let interactions found in children’s apps propel the story or be in some way helpful to characters within. Everybody loves to tap and touch, but being able to trigger hot spots that include an alarm clock ringing or other aggressive sounds that lead to noise pollution do not add richness to an application, nor does hopping or spinning random characters or other excessive use of unnecessary motion as this can be quite distracting.
Above all else, produce a short video of the application that is easily accessible in a place like Youtube. I watch these to see if your app is worth spending my money on.
As readers may know, over the years I have come across my own favorite developers that I will continue to follow as my interest in children’s applications has not diminished. I still look forward to seeing what new applications will be available in the future.