Archive for the 'Age 04/Preschool' Category

Moving the Needle with Kids Interactive Media

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

In the final weeks of 2014, I spent a lot of time reviewing all of the kidtech product I had seen throughout the year. In part, taking stock of the past year’s digital playthings was related to providing recommendations as a judge for the KAPi Awards (KAPi meaning Kids at Play Interactive.) The KAPi’s are an industry award for innovation and outstanding design in children’s interactive media. While you can find the complete list of KAPI award winners here, there were a handful of products that didn’t make the list that are worth mentioning. The product may have been too old for kids, or was not digital, or was simply a book. I thought it might be helpful for others to see some of these additional products that, in this reviewers opinion, are deserving of high praise for moving the interactive industry forward in 2014.

Here’s my list…

The Book with No Pictures – by B.J. Novak

The Book with No Pictures is a breakthrough in children's books The first item on my list is not an app. It does not require batteries, and no assembly required. It’s a children’s book. Buy it, find a four or five year old child to read it to, and let the fun begin. If you don’t have a young child send it as a gift to someone who does. As an adult, don’t over analyze why this book works for young children. It’s silly, appropriately speaks to its target audience, and it just works. I call this book out because of the disruption it’s caused in the children’s book world, and because it can help teach app developers to think about alternative approaches to content creation. Break outside of self-imposed barriers to creating content in any medium.

Monument Valley

Beautiful art and engaging game play can be found in the Escher-esk app called Monument ValleyI fell in love with this app earlier in 2014. The artwork is absolutely beautiful, the Escher-esk puzzles are fun and challenging. It did win a KAPi Awards for best app for older kids, but teens and adults will greatly enjoy it as well. It’s only flaw is that the app eventually ends. It’s a game you wish would go on forever. But fear not, the makers of Monument Valley released an additional content download late in the year to extend the challenge with additional levels of play. This app sets the bar very high for the rest of the industry. Currently it’s the yardstick I use to measure against all other apps.

Fibbage

From the makers of You Don't Know Jack, the social game of FibbageHere’s one you won’t find on any kids list. The game of Fibbage is rated T for Teen, and is a major hit at parties for adults young and old. They’re many things to say about this game. First, do you remember the You Don’t Know Jack titles from years ago? Well, Fibbage was developed by the same creative folks! The game uses a series of fill in the blank phrases, and audience members try to give a response, or a lie, that throws others into voting for your answer. After a short number of rounds the player with the most votes wins. It’s easy to learn, and the humor grows as more people play. But here’s what I really appreciate about this game. In an age of over the top 3D graphics, and deep story lines, and super slick characters and properties, Fibbage is incredibly simple console game, and in a sense a minimalist approach to game play that beats all other games it competes with. It’s also designed to work easily with any kind of smartphone, and you don’t have to be in the same room to play with others. You can have team members from around the world compete with you! Be forewarned there’s crude humor and fart noise throughout. If you can put that aside you will be amazed at how much fun this game is. As a developer, you will appreciate the beauty and simplicity of it’s design.

Osmo

Photo of the Osmo interactive gameInteractive products that successfully marry together fun interactivity software with physical objects can be counted on just one hand. The industry is littered with virtual and digital product combination failures. Osmo, another KAPi Award winner, stands as one of the shining example in this category. The product can be purchased at most Apple retail stores, and comes bundled with physical pieces to play three games, along with the three apps you download for free to play those games. There’s a fun and challenging tangram puzzle, single or multi player spelling games, and a drawing game where you control the direction of falling virtual balls based on what you draw. It’s a clever set of games and I can’t wait to see what new products this company announces in 2015.

Positive Digital Content for Kids

Image of the book Positive Digital Content for KidsThere are two things I really admire together; great design and insightful articles about the interactive industry. This beautifully designed online book includes both! It’s a free, informative guide for developers, complete with excellent interviews from leading children’s product developers like the BBC, Ravensburger, and Toca Boca. Interactive media designers, play designers, and print designers can learn a lot about making successful products and great designs for kids from this book. Another must read for product producers. For me, it was one of the best finds of 2014. Now download a copy and enjoy, but do know the book is also available in a limitedprint run.

Google Cardboard

Photo of Google CardboardRegardless of what you may think of this deal, the world of virtual reality took a giant step forward in 2014 with the acquisition of Oculus Rift by Facebook. What many people may not be able to see is just how fast the VR space is moving. Google Cardboard is a great example of that breakneck speed. Cardboard is an innovative, low cost solution to experience virtual reality. Folding together a pre-perfed cardboard mailer and sticking your Android compatible phone in the back allows anyone access to a compelling VR experience. The idea itself suggests that a lot can be done with VR in short, affordable bursts. The Google Cardboard initiative is definitely thinking outside the box. Watch for many copycats in the coming months.

Moff Band

Photo of the Moff Band interactive productThe Moff Band is a set of two flexible wrist bands that communicate motion activity of your arms back to an Apple tablet or smartphone. That motion drives a simple sound effects app. Ever play air drums and wish you could enhance the experience with the perfect set of well orchestrated rhythm effects? Ever have a wooden spoon and needed the audio support to make you feel like you dueling with Zorro? Or maybe a princess’ magic wand is more your style, complete with sparkle sounds? The Moff Band provides a great audio backdrop to your pretend play. The product was a huge Kickstarter success in Japan earlier in the year, and is now just making its way to the US. Watch for it in 2015.

Press Here – by Hervé Tullet

Image of the Press Here children's book by Hervé TulletI’ll end my list with another children’s book. Press Here is not just another great children’s book, it’s an excellent example of how to capture the spirit of great interactivity. In a sense it’s a new breed of books, one the feels like the author spent a lot of time studying the world of successful kids apps and theater of the mind, and folded the two into the book’s pages. Anyone working in the industry must experience this book with a child. This is not simply a book for techie wonks. Kids love it. You will love it. It’s a great addition to a young child’s library as well as your professional library.

Have you used any of the above products? Have you read any of these books? Have thoughts about other products that should be added to this list? Leave a comment below to share with others!

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A Year of Children’s Conferences

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

Photo of a conference hall

Where do you go to stay smart in the kids interactive industry? What conferences keep you on top of your craft, while also helping you grow your network? What events are vital to attend to learn the latest trends? There are so many conferences these days which ones are right for you? Look no further, here’s a compiled conference list to get you started! It covers areas of the children’s interactive media business like toys, eBooks, video games, children’s television, apps, play, research, consumer products, and more. The list below covers most of the big US and international shows in 2015, and just a few important smaller events.

You can download a PDF copy of this list here. Let us know what you think. Which events do you attend? What speakers draw you to an event? If there’s an event that’s not on this list, and you think it’s important, please let us know in the comments below.


# Conference w link Location Date(s) Focus
1 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) Las Vegas, NV 1/6-9/15 Hardware, tech
2 Kids@Play Las Vegas, NV 1/7/15 KidTech
3 Hong Kong Toys & Games Fair Hong Kong 1/12-15/15 Toys
4 Digital Book World New York, NY 1/13-15/15 eBooks
5 FETC Orlando, FL 1/20-23/15 Ed tech
6 PAXsouth San Antonio, TX 1/23-25/15 Gaming
7 Nuremburg Toy Fair Nuremburg 1/28-2/2/15 Toys
8 NY Toy Fair New York, NY 2/14-17/15 Toys
9 Digital Kids Conference New York, NY 2/15-17/15 KidTech
10 Kidscreen Summit Miami, FL 2/23-26/15 Broadcast, Children’s TV
11 iKids Miami, FL 2/26/15 KidTech
12 Game Developers Conference (GDC) San Fran, CA 3/2-6/15 Gaming
13 PAXeast Boston, MA 3/6-8/15 Gaming
14 SXSWedu Austin, TX 3/9-12 2015 Education
15 SXSW Gaming Expo Austin, TX 3/13-16/15 Gaming
16 SXSW Interactive Austin, TX 3/13-17/15 Interactive
17 SXSW Music Austin, TX 3/17-22/15 Music
18 Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) Philadelphia, PA 3/19-21/15 Research
19 Sandbox Summit Cambridge, MA 3/22-24/15 Play
20 Dust or Magic Masterclass Bologna 3/25/15 eBooks
21 Bologna Children’s Book Faire Bologna 3/30-4/2/15 Books
22 Early Education & Technology for Children (EETC) Salt Lake City, UT 3/15 Early ed, edtech
23 London Book Fair London, UK 4/14-16/15 Books
24 Games for Change New York, NY 4/21-23/15 Serious games
25 Dust or Magic eBook Retreat Honesdale, PA 4/15 eBooks
26 PlayCon Scottsdale, AZ 4/29-5/1/15 Toys
27 Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) San Fran, CA 5/3-5/15 Ed tech
28 Maker Faire Bay Area San Mateo, CA 5/16-17/15 Maker
29 Book Expo America (BEA) New York, NY 5/27-29/15 eBooks
30 AppCamp Pacific Grove, CA 5/30-6/2/15 Children’s Apps
31 “Content in Context (CIC, AAP) Wash DC 6/1-3/15 Ed publishing
32 NAEYC Professional Development conference New Orleans, LA 6/7-10/15 Early ed
33 Licensing Expo Las Vegas, NV 6/9-11/15 Licensing
34 Digital Media & Learning (DML) LA, CA 6/11-13/15 Ed tech
35 E3 LA, CA 6/16-18/15 Gaming
36 Interaction Design & Children (IDC) Medford, MA 6/21-24/15 Research
37 International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Philadelphia, PA 6/28-7/1/15 Ed tech
38 Children’s Media Conference (Professional) Sheffield, UK 7/1-3/15 Broadcast
39 Playful Learning Summit Maddison, WI 7/7/15 Serious games
40 “Games, Learning & Society (GLS) Maddison, WI 7/8-10/15 Serious games
41 ComicCom San Diego, CA 7/9-12/15 Entertainment
42 International Reading Association (IRA) St. Louis, MO 7/17-20/15 Education, reading
43 Serious Play LA, CA 7/15 Serious games
44 Casual Connect San Fran, CA 8/11-13/15 Gaming
45 Burning Man Black Rock Desert, NV 8/29-9/5/15 Art, mind
46 Digital Kids Summit San Fran, CA 9/15 KidTech
47 World Congress of Play San Fran, CA 9/15 Toys
48 Maker Faire New York New York, NY 9/26-27/15 Maker
49 MIP Jr. Cannes, France 10/2-4/15 Children’s television
50 MDR EdNet Atlanta, GA 10/4-6/15 Ed tech
51 MIPcom Cannes, France 10/5-8/15 Television
52 Fall Toy Preview Dallas, TX 10/6-8/15 Toys
53 Meaningful Play East Lansing, MI 10/15 Serious games
54 CineKid Amsterdam ~10/18-22/15 Interactive
55 Dust or Magic Lambertville, NJ 11/1-3/15 Kidtech, children’s apps
56 NAEYC Annual Conference TBA 11/15 Early ed
57 ChiTAG Chicago, IL 11/20-23/15 Toys
58 SIIA Education Business Forum New York, NY 12/15 Ed tech
59 Star Wars Episode VII release US 12/18/15 Entertainment

NOTE: Items highlighted in red indicate specifics about an event that have yet to be announced as of 11/10/2014.

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Minding the Milliseconds of Childhood

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

The following is an article I wrote that appears in the November 2014 issue of Children’s Technology Review.

Photo of a stopwatch, measuring the milliseconds it takes for a tablet to respond to a child's tap request.

If we look at the amount of time a child has to enjoy being a child, it works out to something like 6,753 days, or 157,680 hours. Every hour of childhood is important, as is every second. Who knew, but milliseconds seem to matter as well. Engaging a child successfully in an interactive experience can boil down to what happens within a fraction of a second.

While working in the children’s interactive industry for many years, there’s one question I’m asked more than any other: “What is the single most important thing needed to successfully engage a child in an interactive experience?” In today’s world that means successful engagement through tablets and apps, of which there are many things to consider. Engaging characters, compelling stories, a strong game mechanic, lots of user testing, a willingness to change something for the better when developing, an understanding of child development and child related research. But that’s not where I start. These are all “must have” components of a successful interactive experience. So what’s the one item that will make or break your app? Responsivity.

It’s usually at this point the person asking the question says “Huh? What do you mean? Responsivity?” Even if the app includes all the must have items mentioned above, if the app does not respond immediately to a child’s request, usually in the form of a tap on a screen, your product is dead. It won’t be used. End of story. The time you have to successfully respond to a child’s request can be measured in milliseconds.

Let me share a recent article to help crystallize just how little time you have. I’ll reference a technology advance outside of the children’s industry. There have been some amazing discoveries in the virtual reality space in the last year. You know, those crazy headsets that cover your eyes and ears to deliver an otherworldly experience, be it on Oculus Rift or Morpheus.

The vision of this technology might one day deliver a mind blowing, life changing, “real” experience. Part of recent successes in this industry boil down to this:

a.) If a user makes a request through the technology (input),
b.) and the display in front of the person updates as quickly as possible (output),
c.) the more believable and enjoyable the experience.

However, with a slow update, the user will feel nauseous. Literally. This performance, or latency, can actually be measured. A response time longer than 30 milliseconds will make someone sick.

For years the virtual reality industry has been unable to break a performance speed below 60 milliseconds, and in the process of trying, has made a lot of virtual reality testers sick. The breakthrough is this industry will be when they bring the performance issue down to about 15 milliseconds, which some say is now within reach.

In reaching that goal, virtual reality designers have had to look at everything that causes latency: Computer processing speed, software, cables, accelerometers, display screens,… everything. (See background info in Wired for more)

Let’s put that in context to an interactive experience for a child. What are the ingredients that make up the response time of an app? Just like the discoveries found with the virtual reality example above, the same components are equally important here. Interactive responsivity can be simmered down to what hardware and software combinations you use.

Lets start with the hardware. We’re talking about tablets. Are all tablet technologies created equal? If you look at the responsivity of just the hardware component of a tablet surface alone, though the differences are small, it appears the response time of a tap is hardly equal across all devices. Have a look at how long a single tap takes to register through the hardware of a tablet:


Tablet Response time (in milliseconds)
Apple iPad Mini 75 milliseconds
Apple iPad (4th generation) 81 milliseconds
Microsoft Surface RT 95 milliseconds
Amazon Kindle Fire 114 milliseconds
Samsung Galaxy Tab 168 milliseconds

(Note: A shorter response time is better. Source)

Okay, no big deal, right? We’re talking just a fraction of a second, and we’re not even measuring hardware latency from devices specifically targeted to children in toy stores, which by the way use cheaper (AKA slower) chips and tablet surface components.

Now we need to add in latency that is introduced from software. What software tools are being used to create apps for children? Most app-based software tools fall into one of two categories; native apps and non-native apps.

Native apps tend to be written with programming code that is “compiled.” Compiled code is translated into something a computer can understand at a machine level. Languages like C and C++ are compiled languages that tend to execute quickly.

Non-native apps may be created with a “wrapper”, something that can bundle together other kinds of “runtime” code, like JavaScript, HTML, and HTML5. Runtime code is not compiled. Runtime code reads like English, which is great for writing code quickly by humans, but not necessarily the best form to be understood quickly by computers. When this kind of code is executed at runtime, a tablet needs to interpret it, one line at a time, into something it can understand. Translating this runtime code on the fly is time consuming for any computing device, including tablets, and creates latency with a response back to the user.

When a tap or a swipe is sent to a native or non-native app, we’re still talking about a fraction of a second for this instruction to execute. However, just to put this in perspective, generally speaking, runtime code can take up to ten times longer to execute than compiled code depending on the processor being used. This can mean the difference between 2 and 20 milliseconds for a small number of lines of code to execute before the user receives a response. (Source 1, 2)

By now you may be doing some math in your head. Keep in mind, we’re still talking best possible scenario here. On top of all this hardware and software latency there’s the need to load assets (graphics, sound, video) in and out of memory. How memory management is handled can also add a lot of latency to an experience, more so for apps that download its content at runtime from the web as opposed to apps that bundle all of its content within the app locally. This is often where the difference between an experienced developer and an inexperienced developer pays off. Creating lean yet appealing art, animation, and audio is an art form, one that often adds to the benefit of “perceived” performance, and ultimately the end user’s experience. A talented developer also will know how to “mask” some of this latency, in a way that makes both the tablet’s processor, and the end user, very happy from a performance perspective.

So, do slow performing apps make kids sick? Maybe not literally like the virtual reality example cited earlier, but, many theorize that it can influence how engaged a child is in the experience. An app that is responsive can mean the difference between successfully engaging a child or making them not want to interact with an app at all. It can also influence your rating in CTR, which measures responsivity of every activity.

If you design products for children, immediacy is vital. Sluggishness can make you feel sick, and contribute to the death of an app.

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Cooney Study Leaves New Questions for Educational Media Creators

Monday, January 27th, 2014

[The following is an article I wrote for the Jan. 24, 2014 issue of KidScreen.]

Vicky Rideout during her survey presentation at the Cooney Center Breakthrough Learning Forum.

Media research reports are great for offering insights about an industry. They help media creators take stock in where they are today with their media creation efforts on different platforms, and they also provide ideas on how we can best serve an intended audience. At the same time, what is gained from a new study almost always leads to many more new questions that can’t immediately be answered.

That’s certainly the case with the latest Joan Ganz Cooney Center report entitled Learning at Home: Families’ Educational Media Use in America. According to Vicky Rideout, children’s media researcher and the report’s main author, this is the first time “we have tried to quantify, on a national basis, what portion of kids screen time is devoted to educational content.”

The report digs deep into parents’ thoughts on their child’s use of educational media across a number of different platforms. One big finding that will not be a big surprise to broadcasters: Television is still king when it comes to delivering educational content, even though access to alternative platforms like mobile, computers and videogames has increased greatly in recent years. Television is the preferred platform by a long shot for educational media. Granted, the television industry has also had decades more time, almost 50 years’ worth, of creating and delivering educational content to young children than its younger media platform relatives. Still, with the explosive growth of mobile, this data point begs the question if parents are aware of the educational opportunities available to them on other platforms?

Among the many insights offered, children engage with educational media less as they age. Two-to four-year-olds consume 1:16 (one hour and sixteen minutes) of educational media daily, dropping to 0:50 for five-to seven-year-olds, and further still to 0:42 for eight-to 10-year-olds. Even at this lower end for eight-to 10-year-olds, you could consider their educational media use as an added class of learning material each day. However, as a child ages they also spend more overall time consuming media, educational or not, to the point where eight to 10-year-old media usage almost doubles compared to that of two-to four-year-olds. Surprisingly, while this older group consumes less educational media content daily, their parents report seeing their child demonstration of “a particular action as a result of something they saw or did with educational media” more so than the younger age groups. This could very well be a cumulative effect of educational media use consumed over many years, but still, it’s striking data point in the research. One could strongly argue, this “particular action” is evidence of mastery of the educational content that is consumed.

Other noteworthy findings:

  • Parents see a greater perceived learning impact in the areas of cognitive skills, reading, and math from educational media use but less impact with learning science or anything related to the arts.
  • The greater a parent’s education, the less educational media is consumed.
  • The greater the family’s income, the less educational media consumed.
  • Hispanic/Latino households reports less “actions taken” from educational media use than Black or White families.

These are just a few of the many findings called out in this report. There’s also data on parent and child sharing in the educational media experience together (often referred to as “joint media engagement”) as well as findings on traditional book reading and eBook use.

With just these few items I’ve called out above, the report forces us to consider many big, unanswered questions:

  • As children grow, why do they engage less with educational media, yet consume more media at the same time? Is there a need to create more engaging educational content for this age group than what is currently being offered?
  • What is it that we’re doing wrong, or not doing at all, to better engage Hispanic/Latino families with educational media?
  • Are parents less aware of the educational offerings available through mobile, computers and video games? If so, should we get behind a national awareness campaign to make ratings and reviews websites like Common Sense Media and Children’s Technology Review better known to parents?

Perhaps the biggest question raised in this report is whether educational media use, which appears to have great benefit at an early age, leads to greater media consumption that is of less benefit to children as they age?

Michael Levine, the executive director of the Cooney Center shares this report is the beginning of a larger conversation around educational media use. “There’s a lot of interest in having children view educational media, but less fulfillment of the wish as illustrated by this report, particularly for low income and Hispanic and Latino families,” he says.

As media creators, it is imperative to understand what can be done to up our game in the educational media space, no matter what the delivery vehicle. Part of that entails informing parents about resources available to them today to help them find the best educational content broadcasters and software publishers have to offer. The Cooney Center as well as many other interested groups, foundations, and policy makers are already quickly working on the next new report, and latest research findings that will one day in the near future move the industry needle even further ahead, as well as create many more questions we’ve yet to imagine, as evidence by the volume of questions this report is sure to generate.

Additional video links:
1.) Vicky Rideout – Learning from Home report overview
2.) Michael Levine – Learning from Home report overview
3.) Playlist of all Learning from Home speakers
4.) The complete Learning from Home discussion (speakers with audience discussion)

[Scott Traylor is the CEO and founder of 360KID, a youth-focused organization that specializes in developing interactive content, apps, and games for broadcasters, publishers and organizations that wish to engage kids of any age.]

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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)

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