Archive for the 'Handhelds/Mobile Computing' Category

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.

Children’s Conferences for 2016

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

Photo of a conference hall

Our great big list of kids conferences for 2016 is ready to be released! It’s a compilation of major events that touch on different areas of the children’s media world. Apps, toys, eBooks, education, television, video games, and more. A similar list was created last year at this time for 2015 conferences. The 2016 list is now available in two flavors. The first is a PDF doc that sorts events chronologically. The second PDF segments conferences by media type, or focus.

You may be asking yourself, “Is every children’s media event included on this list?” The answer is no. There are 68 events listed here and you could easily add hundreds more. However, the conferences included tend to be among the biggest or best known events in their specific area of focus.

A few notes about what’s new in our conference list since last year:

  • Conferences related to virtual reality and augmented reality were added as this business sector is heating up fast. These events are not specifically child focused, but is an area worth watching as it could offer new opportunities with children’s media down the road.

  • One digital video conference, VidCon, was added as more and more kids watch digital videos on mobile devices. Another event to look for is YouTube’s Brandcast, which at the time of writing has not publicly announced a date for their 2016 event.

  • Two big children’s research conferences, Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) and the Cognitive Development Society (CDS) are biennual events, and 2016 is an off year for each. See you in 2017!

  • The iKids event from Brunico has been folded into their annual Kidscreen conference.

  • Early Education & Technology for Children (EETC) has been folded into the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) annual conference.

  • Also not included at the time of posting, Common Sense Media and Vicky Rideout should have a Zero to Eight media use report out sometime in 2016. An event date has yet to be announced but keep on the lookout for it later in the year.

If you know of other events not included on our list that could be of benefit to the children’s media community, please do share a comment below, complete with the event name, date(s), location, and URL. Thanks for your help, and I look forward to seeing you at a future event!

Toy Fair 2015: Brand Mashups, Smart Toys and Indie Innovation

Saturday, February 28th, 2015

The following is an article I wrote for the February 20, 2015 issue of the iKids weekly online magazine.

Mattel's Hello Barbie was among the top tech toys talked about at the 2015 NY Toy Fair

Creative play pushed the envelope once again at this year’s International Toy Fair, held earlier this week in New York City. Organizers of the event reported over 7,000 new toy products were unveiled for the first time at the show. For those who follow tech toys you may be asking yourself, “Were there any new playful app announcements at Toy Fair?” Yes, but fewer breakthrough announcements compared to last year. “How about new robots?” Yes, too many dinosaur robots. Again nothing really noteworthy. “Indie startups?” Yes, a handful to keep an eye on. “Tech toy innovation?” Yes indeed, with clever business collaborations, brand mashups, and new player innovation that pushes the industry forward.

Before jumping into notable tech, there were a few non-tech announcements worth sharing:

ThinkFun Maker kits, one of three different kits available

Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls celebrated their 100th anniversary. (Note: Toy Fair celebrated its 112th year.) Funko’s Pop! Vinyl cube-like head collectible figures made a PR splash. Silly String now glows in the dark. ThinkFun debuted a great set of maker kits that are bound to fly off the shelves (pictured left). And those tiny green plastic army guys had a makeover, re-introduced as Yoga Joes (pictured below), where military clad figures strike various yoga poses. Clever idea indeed!

Green army guys reinvented as Yoga Joes

Tech announcements fell into one of a few different groupings. Some tech toys relied on creative business alliances. Others relied on the strength of a brand tie-in for its inspiration. Others took something old and made it new again. Indies provided the freshest tech toy ideas.

Mattel's update to the View Master with a little help from Google VR

View Master – One of the biggest announcements dangled before the start of Toy Fair was the Mattel/Google partnership to bring the classic View-Master into the 21st century (pictured above). Last year Google released an innovative and inexpensive virtual reality headset kit made out of cardboard. The VR screen is powered by an Android phone dropped into the back of the cardboard box. The update to View-Master relies on similar thinking, though the body that holds your phone to has been neatly designed. While Google Cardboard is the lowest price VR experience you may find anywhere (with some assembly required,) the View-Master update is a slick design and only cost just a bit more.

CogniToys by Elemental Path

Hello Barbie – Another big tech product announcement by Mattel, Hello Barbie (pictured at top of article), might easily be referred to as Hello Siri. Hello Barbie is a WiFi-enabled plaything that can engage in a conversation with you. Ask Barbie a question and she will intelligently respond back to you. Mattel partnered with technology company ToyTalk, this tech toy has a similar feel to last year’s WikiBear announcement. Talking toys are nothing new, but natural and fluid two way conversation through a toy is. Late in the week another similar announcement was made by Elemental Path with a product called CogniToys (pictured right), which is a collaboration with IBM’s Watson technology. Fluid toy communication is destined to be an active product area in the years ahead.

Hasbro's latest Furby creation, with a Star Wars twist: Furbacca

Furbacca – Hasbro has had great success over the last two years thinking up clever new extensions to the Ferby brand. This year the Star War’s themed Furbacca is the latest, complete with free app. Furbacca moves in place and hums different Star Wars songs.

The DynaPod, wearable kidtech with a built in programming twist

DynaPods – Last year we saw a few wearable tech toys make it to market, but most didn’t really have a purpose. It was wearable tech for tech’s sake. DynePods from newcomer Dynepic ties together programming concepts with a wearable display. The DynePod 5×5 LED “screen” (pictured above) communicates with an app through Bluetooth, empowering kids to make small if/then programming routines. These routines are then shared back to the screen, which can detect motion, light up, buzz, and vibrate depending on the programmed request. The display is also Lego compatible so it can be combined to create new interactive experiences.

The Moff Band is a wearable device that communicates with your smart device as you move

Moff Band is a clever motion-based wrist band that interacts with your smartphone or tablet to produce sound effects in real-time. With Moff everyday objects become new pretend play experiences. A broom can become a golf club. A spatula a magic wand. Any physical item can now include a magical sound effect when taped, touched, or moved. Everything around you becomes a plaything. Moff is sure to be the big tech toy hit of the year.

While it was a good year at Toy Fair for tech, it was easy to be left with a feeling of wanting more. More toy tech innovation will indeed come. Watching this play category you will definitely notice the wind through your hair. New product announcements are coming faster through independents rather than through long established traditional toy selling cycles. Stay tuned for many more tech toy announcements to come!

Scott Traylor is the founder of 360KID and an advisor to a number of 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, seeking out the next cool kidtech business. Scott can be reached at Scott (at) 360KID (dot) com.

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!

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.