Archive for November, 2013

Tricks of the Trade: On Making Magic with Apps

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

[The following is an article I wrote for the November 14, 2013 issue of KidScreen’s online iKids Magazine.]

A photo of Theo Gray during his Disney Animated app presentation

Theo Gray, co-founder of Touch Press, presenting the new Disney Animated app. (Click photo to see larger version.)

Every year in early November, there’s a very special children’s interactive media conference called Dust or Magic that’s held a short drive outside of New York City. The name of the event comes from a 17th century Japanese poet, Matsuo Basho, who wrote, “An idea can turn to dust or magic depending on the talent that rubs against it.”

This is the underlying theme that weaves itself throughout the hundreds of apps that are discussed during the event, and a select few that are presented live. In the ever-expanding world of the children’s interactive media, which products are considered “magic” or “dust?” And why? As an industry of creators, we ask ourselves “What can we learn from the good, as well as the bad?”

Dust or Magic is the brainchild of Warren Buckleitner, who is also the editor of Children’s Technology Review magazine, a former blogger for The New York Times and an expert in the children’s digital world.

This was my 12th year attending Dust or Magic. Over that time I’ve seen the interactive industry grow through talking books from LeapFrog, numerous Tickle Me Elmo dolls, virtual worlds like Club Penguin and Webkins, all the way to today’s vibrant app world for kids. I’ve seen many unknown speakers go on to release top selling products in their field, create new and compelling ways to engage children, and all the while raise the bar of quality for the entire children’s industry. This year there was no shortage of stellar presentations, and three in particular are worth sharing with those who could not attend the event. These three presentations rose the bar.

The opening presentation was delivered by Theo Gray, founder and app developer for the company Touch Press. Gray’s accomplishments include receiving an ig Nobel Prize in chemistry, but his app work is second to none. Gray has created a number of stellar apps, one called The Elements, another the Solar System, which sets new standards for excellence in app creation. However, at this year’s event he presented his latest work, an app for Disney that chronicles its animation history called Disney Animated. This new body of work was completely amazing, and there was one moment in Theo’s presentation, a breathtaking, jaw-dropping moment. Gray had created a single screen, color bar chart that included frames from every single animated movie ever created by Disney. With a touch of the finger, you could call up a single frame of animation from any movie every created by the company. It was a truly amazing moment.

Later, we were treated to a presentation by the founder and CEO of a small startup called Tinybop. Never heard of Tinybop? They launched their first kids’ app in August, and it has blossomed into the industry’s best overnight success story yet. This number-one selling app is called The Human Body and it’s rewriting the rules of child engagement. Simple. Clean. Funny. Engaging. Enlightening. The founder, Raul Gutierrez, shared his business plan with the Dust or Magic community, and you can see why it was a presentation long to be remembered.

The next notable presentation came from Chip Donohue, dean of distance learning and continuing education for the Erikson Institute as well as senior fellow at the Fred Rogers Center. Over the past few years, Donohue has helped define a best practices position paper for using technology in early learning, an excellent road map for using tablets with young children. As he pointed out in his presentation, there’s been a lot happening in the interactive space over just these last few weeks, and he put together a presentation with all the latest recommendations and best practices for engaging children intentionally through new media platforms. A fantastic resource for everyone in the kids’ biz.

These speakers were accompanied by unreleased new work from Toca Boca and its newly acquired sister company Sago Sago, as well as preschool app development tips from Duck Duck Moose. Magic, it was in the air.

Extra links:

Speaker presentation playlist (15 videos)

App demo playlist (23 videos)

A Conversation With Vicky Rideout

Friday, November 1st, 2013

Summarizing “Zero to Eight Children’s Media Use in America 2013″

[The following is an article I wrote for the November 2013 issue of Children’s Technology Review. A PDF copy of the article from this magazine can be downloaded here.]

A photo of Vicky Rideout from an earlier 2013 presentation

For those of us that work in children’s media, there’s nothing like finding a fresh, data filled report.

Zero to Eight Children’s Media Use in America 2013” is Vicki Rideout’s latest in a series of reports commissioned by Common Sense Media. Having followed Vicky’s work for more than a decade, I asked her for an overview of her findings.

The first key finding is this: Television and video game use is down for children compared to just two years ago. (Yes, down, not up!) In addition, overall screen media use is down compared to what was recorded just two years ago.

Television viewing in the bedroom is also down by a sizable amount. As with the television and video game drop Vicky says “I’d like to look back on these data points from a future report to see if this is a bump or a trend.” This finding does beg some additional questions that cannot be answered through the report, like has there been a drop in the number of televisions owned in the home? Has the drop in television viewing in the bedroom shifted to video viewing on a tablet in the bedroom? Vicky says it is too early to tell if this is a trend.

According to Rideout “Little drops in each platform add up to a half hour of less screen time per day on traditional screens. Then when you add in the increase in mobile use it brings that number down to 20 minutes less screen time per day. While this drop in overall screen time is significant and noteworthy, I’d like to see what the research says in another two years.”

There’s a lot of material in this report about tablet and related mobile media use. For example, two years ago only 8% of parents owned a tablet. “Today it’s 40% and children’s tablet ownership is nearly similar to that of their parents from the 2011 report. Years ago handheld video game manufacturers noted that when an older sibling purchased a new handheld gaming device, a younger sibling would ultimately receive the older device. Could the same thing be happening here with parents purchasing a new tablet and giving the children their old one? This report can’t answer that question specifically, but one thing is clear: Tablet ownership by children will increase in the years to come.

Another key trend: there is a giant shift in media use, and “the tablet is a game changer.” Vicky told me that there is “some computer use among young children, starting as early as four years of age, but because the tablet has simplified the interface so much and made things so intuitive, we see really young children successfully using this platform. If a one or two year old child can turn the pages of a board book, that same child can touch and swipe a tablet. If that child can point to an image on a board book, then that child can launch an app. As a result, a large world of content is made available to these young children. The floor for how young children use this platform has gone way down compared to other technological innovations, even compared to the Wii, which was a huge leap forward in terms of intuitive use and interface deign.”

In addition Vicky notes: “People keep saying how children are so technologically smart. We have that notion backwards. It’s the technology that’s become smart, so smart that a kid, or even a baby can use it. This change is also opening up access to content that is not just about passive video watching.

“People keep asking me ‘Is this a good thing or a bad thing?’ Unless you believe that a screen per se is a bad thing for kids no matter what, I usually respond that this is just a thing, it’s just a tablet. The good or bad about a tablet depends on the quality of the content you share with a child through this new medium.”

Vicky’s comments just begin to scratch the surface of what’s included in this new report. However, Vicky also shared she is working on a new report, focused on the same zero to eight demographic, but this time she’s writing it for the Joan Ganz Cooney Center. This report will take a deep dive into educational media, eBooks, and joint media engagement (a fancy term for parents who share in the same media experience with their child). The scheduled date of release is January 23, 2014. We look forward to reading more!

Related links:

Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America 2013
Common Sense Media

VIDEO – Parenting in the Age of Digital Technology – Vicky Rideout interview (2013)
360KID

Parenting in the Age of Digital Technology (2013)
Northwestern University


VIDEO – Vicky Rideout interview – Zero to Eight Children’s Media Use Research Overview (2011)

360KID

Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America (2011)
Common Sense Media

Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds (2010)
Kaiser Family Foundation


Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Yr-olds (2005)

Kaiser Family Foundation

The Effects of Electronic Media on Children Ages Zero to Six: A History of Research (2005)
Kaiser Family Foundation

Zero to Six: Electronic Media in the Lives of Infants, Toddlers and Preschoolers (2003)
Kaiser Family Foundation

Kids & Media @ The New Millennium (1999)
Kaiser Family Foundation