Archive for June, 2016

Why App Store changes will benefit kids developers

Monday, June 20th, 2016

[The following is an article I wrote for the online magazine Kidscreen, June 13, 2016.]

It’s been an interesting time in the mobile app world. While the children’s mobile space continues to face its fair share of challenges, new hope has emerged from an announcement made in advance of Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, which begins today in San Francisco.

Some noteworthy points to take away from last week’s announcement:

  • Apple app review times will be significantly reduced. Starting today, about half of all apps submitted will be reviewed and approved within 24 hours. A majority of those apps remaining will be reviewed and approved within 48 hours.

  • Developers interested in selling their apps on a monthly subscription basis can begin considering this option. While some parameters around subscription-based apps are sure to come, this is a welcomed move. Apps will soon be able to generate monthly subscription dollars in any app category. Apple also plans to allow multiple tiers of subscription pricing.

  • If a user subscribes to an app for more than a year, the revenue split between the developer and Apple, which has historically been a 70% to 30% split, will change to 85% to 15% in the developer’s favor. That’s 15% more revenue heading into a developer’s pocket. This policy will go into effect starting today, and any developer that sells an app as part of a subscription can start collecting this additional 15% of revenue from subscribers who have been with them for more than a year.

And more changes are coming within the App Store itself. One big change will be the ability for developers to bid on keywords in order to have their apps appear at the top of a search result (though this change will apparently not appear for anyone under the age of 13).

On the surface, this is great news. And it’s possible that more changes benefiting developers will come out of this week’s conference. In addition, this move by Apple will most certainly force Google’s hand in making more changes to its Google Play app store. In fact, shortly after Apple’s announcement, Google modified its subscription pricing to an 85%/15% split, minus the one year offset that Apple has defined.

While the changes will undoubtedly be embraced by the app-making community, they come on the heels of recent findings from research firm Nomura, which used data from app tracking research company SensorTower to discover that overall app downloads from some of the biggest publishers have dropped by 20% in the last year (unless you are Snapchat or Uber).

This is not good news for any developer, as it suggests a contracting market. So while there’s great potential for appmakers to make more revenue through app sales, it will only work if people are actually downloading these apps in the first place.

It’s also worth noting that developers have been clamoring for many more improvements that have yet to be addressed. Are these first set of changes too little too late? Is it possible we will see a resurgence in the app world again that offers developers of entertaining and educational apps for children something to be truly excited about? Time will tell, but you can count on one thing: All eyes, especially those of the struggling app developer community, will be focused on more news coming out of the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference this week.

Scott Traylor is the founder of 360KID and a consultant to many children’s interactive businesses and products (none of which are referenced in this article). He’s also a former computer science teacher and currently lives in Silicon Valley, searching for the next big opportunity in the children’s industry. Scott can be reached at Scott@360KID.com.

Is the children’s app market overripe? Developers discuss.

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016

Photo of a photo of AppCamp attendees

[The following is an article I wrote for the online magazine Kidscreen, June 1, 2016.]

Every year at the end of May, between the Google IO and the Apple Developer Conference in San Francisco, roughly 50 talented and passionate children’s app developers meet to hear the latest industry news, view upcoming apps and discuss best practices for mobile development. And last week’s seventh-annual AppCamp conference in Monterey, California was no different. What has changed, though, is the kids mobile market.

You would think with the latest industry news of Toca Boca’s acquisition by Spin Master, and Age of Learning receiving a US$150 million investment, that the bright sunny skies of Monterey were foreshadowing the future of the industry.

But opening discussions at the conference, which were led by many successful developers, painted a very different picture, as concerns about sustainability, lack of monetization, discovery and growth were top of mind.

Having a successful app, or a portfolio of successful apps, is often not enough to provide sustainable revenue for a company. It’s become clear that in order to survive, app developers need to diversify their offerings beyond mobile. Licensing of intellectual property, app bundles, toys and television are all helpful ways to create stability and sustainability, though each requires its own set of expertise and ongoing cultivation in order to succeed.

Regular AppCamp speaker and Toca Boca co-founder Björn Jeffrey shared that while his company enjoys a rare and privileged place in the children’s app world, it has been actively diversifying its offerings. Toca Boca has been building a new interactive television subscription service scheduled to launch in the fall, and it has also pursued developing new toy products through its Sago Mini subsidiary based in Toronto. Toca Boca also actively seeks out other partnerships and licensing opportunities, as Björn believes the industry will continue to see consolidation in the app space. He’s also concerned about a current “app fatigue” in the marketplace.

Valérie Touze, co-founder of Edoki Academy in Paris, echoed Björn’s sentiments. Touze, who specializes in creating Montessori apps, strongly believes that developers can’t rely on the slim chance that Apple will feature their apps─a rare opportunity that provides a brief boost in sales, and something that a developer can’t control nor request. Diversification, Touze believes, will help avoid disappointment.

Industry vet Mark Schlichting, founder of NoodleWorks and a key creative on the Living Books series from yesteryear publisher Brøderbund, noted that we’re in a mature market. With any sector, there is a rise, a plateau and a fall. This happens with every media platform: CD-ROMs, console devices, electronic handheld games─and now, children’s apps? We’re either at a plateau, or just starting to see a decline, depending on how you look at this maturing industry. Unlike the early days of the App Store, nowadays there’s a predominance of big companies and big licensed brands. For companies that can afford to make such apps, these businesses may not be focused on generating revenue, but rather care more about generating brand visibility, brand engagement and cross-promotion of other non-app products.

Dan Russell-Pinson, president of Freecloud Design, and the creator of the mega app hit Stack the States, believes there’s an “excitement gap” occurring as well. When the iPad launched in 2010, there was a hunger for apps, which were an exciting thing to download, share and talk about. Now, apps are commonplace. While Dan said he continues to release new mobile games simply to maintain his existing revenue base, he believes the market is supportive of price increases, moving up from US$1.99 to US$2.99, or US$2.99 to US3.99 per download.

French developer Pierre Abel of L’Escapadou, a pioneer in the app industry who shares all of his app metrics and sales data in his L’Escapadou blog, talked about the challenges of being a small developer. Abel offered this thought with which he and many other small studios struggle: Is it more important to create new apps for new revenue streams, or should a developer focus on updating one’s existing library of apps? It’s often impossible for a small studio to do both at the same time.

While app industry roadblocks abound, Google Play insider Shazia Makhdumi noted that similar challenges occur in other markets, such as the book world, the music industry and even children’s television. These industries have seen similar problems with monetization, discovery, advertising, visibility and audience-building. Could it be that the children’s app world, along with its many challenges, is simply following a similar pattern to other, more established media industries? And as the sector matures, are new ways of monetizing—say through subscription (or dare we say even advertising)—providing new financial opportunities and stability?

There are, of course, slivers of sunshine.

AppCamp attendees were treated to sneak previews of mobile products that will hit the market in the coming months from the likes of StoryToys, Kindoma, Originator and Edoki Academy. The level of innovation in these apps was impressive and extremely high. What was being shown will certainly raise the creative bar for the rest of the industry. It also provided a glimpse into what success in the children’s app world will look like in the future, at least in terms of quality and features─if not revenue.

The next gathering of the children’s app industry will occur at the 16th-annual Dust or Magic Conference in early November. At that time, the industry will collectively compare notes again, evaluate what has worked, discuss what needs more attention, and hopefully see some positive steps forward with new subscription-based business models that will likely grow in popularity.

Scott Traylor is the founder of 360KID and a consultant to many children’s interactive businesses and products (none of which are referenced in this article). He’s also a former computer science teacher and currently lives in Silicon Valley, searching for the next big opportunity in the children’s industry. Scott can be reached at Scott@360KID.com.