Archive for the 'Interface Design/Product Development' Category

Understanding the AAP’s updated screen guidelines

Friday, October 28th, 2016

[The following is a feature article I wrote for the online magazine Kidscreen, October 21, 2016.]

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has a long history of providing recommendations to parents on how best to raise healthy children. Nearly two decades ago, the AAP began outlining stipulations regarding appropriate media usage for kids. In earlier days, that meant mostly television. Today, as we are well aware, kids’ media consumption extends to mobile devices—and oftentimes begins at the tender age of six months.

So, it’s safe to say change is in the air. Last fall, the AAP revised its media guidelines to be more in sync with family life, effectively letting go of the once-held belief that kids under the age of two should completely abstain from screens. Which brings us to today.

Of the three policy statements released at the AAP National Conference in San Francisco this morning, the association’s latest recommendations for parents with young children include:

  • No media use at all for children under 18 months. The only exception to this recommendation is if families use Skype or FaceTime to stay connected with one another, as long as parental support is included as part of this screen time activity.

  • Parent co-viewing and shared media use is vitally important among 1.5- to two-year-olds. Research has still yet to demonstrate the benefits of media use for children under the age of two, but there appears to be learning benefits, as long as a parent is actively engaged in the co-viewing experience.

  • Limit media use to no more than one hour per day for children ages two to five. During this time, parents should be encouraging high-quality educational and pro-social media content, and should continue to participate in the media experience with their child as they grow to help them understand what he or she is seeing.

  • Make sure media use does not replace non-media activities like outdoor play, social time with friends and family, and reading together. Parents are urged to take time away from screened media to do other things with their child.

  • No media use one hour before bedtime. Studies show children sleep better when they are not engaged in media before bedtime.

Given the rapid advancement of digital media businesses and services, the AAP has been challenged to offer timely research-based guidance to parents and pediatricians. In looking through the list of 191 referenced articles and research reports mentioned across the three AAP policy statements, you see a lot of new research, with almost 30% of referenced research released since 2015. For a list of all referenced research, and links to download free and paid research, click here.

As a developer, I’m inclined to call out some missing and important parts of kids’ digital media usage: Are interactive screens any better or worse for young children than passive screens? Is passive television viewing worse for a child than a mobile learning game, or connecting with a family member on a tablet using Skype? The answers, as of today, continue to be elusive.

The reality is that screens are everywhere, not all screens are created equal, and most people use them heavily throughout their day.

One 2015 study (Kabali et al) referenced in the AAP documents showed most two year olds in the US use a mobile device on a daily basis, and most one year olds (92%) have used a mobile device. Collectively, 96% of all children ages zero to four have used mobile devices. This data is striking, but especially noteworthy when compared to a 2013 Common Sense Media report (Rideout et al). During the two years between when these studies were conducted, television screen time dropped and mobile screen time quadrupled for this age group. Would you call this a media tipping point? And what recommendations does the AAP have for media creators?

To that end:

  • The AAP asks developers to avoid making any apps for children under 18 months of age.

  • When creating new products, work with a developmental psychologist and an educator to help advise age-appropriate content and digital engagement.

  • Design media products for a dual audience, so parents and children can enjoy a shared media experience together.

  • Provide appropriate, responsive and authentic feedback to the child through your product.

  • Do not include any advertisements. Children of this age group can’t tell the difference between content meant for them or an ad.

  • Formally test your product for educational value before promoting educational claims.

  • Consider adding parent dashboards or preference areas where a parent can find helpful feedback on their child’s use of the product and/or customize the experience to monitor and limit overall time being used.

The amount of research and information reviewed by the AAP and synthesized across the three policy documents is impressive, and a helpful benchmark for parents, pediatricians and media creators alike. As this ever-evolving conversation continues in the months and years ahead, there will always be a great need for more research that looks at content as well as the latest distribution methods.

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.

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Links to full list of AAP referenced research

Friday, October 21st, 2016

On Friday October 21, 2016 the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) released three policy statements regarding health recommendations on media use by children. A review of these policy statements shows the AAP has referenced 190 different research papers and articles to support their position. Almost 30% of the papers were made available in 2015 and 2016, and generally reference a large body of helpful information regarding screen use by American youth. Over 75% of the referenced research can be downloaded for free. In an effort to help advance the interests of researchers, educators, and industry here is a collection of all of the AAP referenced research in an Excel spreadsheet with links to easily access and download all of the material.

A collection links to the AAP referenced research on children and screens

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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.

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Buyer Beware – New Kids Search Engine Kiddle not from Google

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

Photo of the Kiddle search page on a mobile device. Notice it says 'powered by editors and Google search'

Many of us who work in the kids tech industry have been interested in the new kids search engine called Kiddle (http://www.kiddle.co/). Trying any simple search through Kiddle provides some satisfying, child friendly results. It’s not a perfect service as some keywords provide mixed search results, but it’s a start. It’s Google-like design feels comforting to most adults, and the service appears to be a great Google search companion for the youngest Internet users. But here’s the thing, it’s not Google.

What the Kiddle service does do is tap into the Google SafeSearch capabilities, which is a digital extension of Google suite of search tools. Any business can add such a search feature to their own website if they wish. The thing that makes Kiddle unique is its claim of employing editors to screen search results in addition to Google’s SafeSearch. This combination provides an added layer of scrutiny to help ensure results are child appropriate. Sounds great. Who couldn’t get behind that idea? A great one-two punch, right?

The problem is the Kiddle site provides no information about who they are. There is a complete lack of transparency on the part of this business. Transparency is king in the children’s digital world. Without it, beware of company motives and interest in doing right by the child. While on the surface the Kiddle search engine appears to be a great service to parents and children, we should all hold off from recommending it to others until the company behind it steps out into the light and reveals itself, how it’s funded, and share other important aspects of its business like how it goes about hiring editors for its service.

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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 2016.

  • 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 I’m told to look 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!

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