Want to Create a Storybook App? Great Idea, Just Mind Those Pitfalls!

Our feature this week is written by Omer Ginor, CEO and co-founder of Touchoo, which publishes highly-acclaimed children’s book-apps for touchscreen platforms. Omer delves into the market of Storybook Apps, an increasingly popular subject around here.  Just how, exactly, will an app-version of your child’s favorite storybook stand out in the crowd?

The market for family-focused apps is evolving rapidly. It wasn’t very long ago that letting your preschooler use apps on your iPhone was considered as geeky, irresponsible or even bad parenting. But things changed quite quickly. A year ago, 59% of iPhone-owning moms let kids use their iPhone, according to a research published in late 2009 by the mobile ad agency Greystipe.  Since last year, the market of educational apps for children has grown dramatically, and apps have been celebrated as beneficial to teaching math, promoting literacy and expanding vocabulary.

Storybooks made as apps covered pretty much the same distance: from being considered a suspicious novelty a couple of years ago, to being viewed as the promise of new life to the classic book-form. This trend received a very strong support with the arrival of tablet computers earlier this year. Soon after the iPad hit the shelves, it was made official: kid’s touchscreen storybook-apps are a hit.

It’s only natural that whenever demand arises in any given market, a rush to meet it soon follows. It seems that the rush to create new touchscreen storybook apps is even more dramatic than most, and I attribute this to two main reasons:

  • There are many aspiring children’s book creators who see an opportunity to quickly and easily deliver their creations to a large audience in an attractive format.
  • There are hundreds of thousands of wonderful storybooks already published in print format which “only” need to be adapted into the new format.

But this rush is exactly where the pitfalls lie: the promise of a large market and the availability of the source materials can translate into products that don’t offer a good user experience, and therefore have a limited chance of success.

To make things easy for those taking their first steps in creating storybook apps, I’ve collected a few golden rules for creating an attractive book-app, which would have a better chance to stand out in the crowd:

  1. Make a very important first decision: is what you intend to create a game or a book? Nothing wrong with either. However, the experience the user will be exposed to will be very different, and the app’s specification will require different features to be implemented.
  2. Before you set out to create your book-app, decide on your target audience: is it meant for young toddlers or early readers? The user experience and the required features are rather different in both cases. Just remember that more is sometimes actually less…
  3. Stories can be too long. Depending on the age and the child, an experience of 10 to 15 minutes is a reasonable goal. If you have a long story – make sure you allow readers to return to where they left off.
  4.  Interactions which complement the storyline (help advance the narrative, reveal additional information, explain or demonstrate the text, etc.) create a fuller experience and make an interactive story different from a story-like game.
  5. Create a streamlined user experience which fits your target audience:
  • Avoid lengthy splash-screens which would make an impatient youngster itch to press the home button.
  • Make sure there are no text-based prompts in places which may be accessed by your young readers.
  • Avoid an excess number of buttons (do you really need that “info” button on every page?).
  • Allow for rapid-fire tapping without compromising the overall reading experience.
  • Avoid an excess use of buttons for younger children’s books.

Keeping these few tips in mind, you’re one step closer to creating a children’s book-app that would work.

4 Replies to “Want to Create a Storybook App? Great Idea, Just Mind Those Pitfalls!”

  1. Thank you Omer for these great insights.
    I think that creating books seems to a lot of developers as an easy task because “all u need to do” is make some pages flip, click bunch of items that will make a sound and VOULA you got your self a book.

    It takes so much more then that and I feel that it is the new gold rush for a lot of people whether it’s developers or authors.

    I hope that in the process of making books WE all remember that the people who read it and give it a quality “stamp” are the kids. They are the ones that are going to ask to read the book over and over.

  2. Thanks for your comments.
    Eyal, you’ve hit the nail on the head! There’s much more to creating a successful book-app than page flipping. Most book-apps, not offering a worthy user experience are destined to be lost in the crowd, same as most gold rush seekers remain poor.
    Grant, I wish you all the best with your new venture and with your partnership with Lynette. To your question, I’m afraid the marketing is the crux of the book-app publishing business. With the app store currently at over 300,000 apps, it takes more than a good app to sell well and justify the investment in great art.
    One of the key elements is visibility. You can greatly improve your chances for success by partnering with a channel (or several channels) that can bring your app to multiple platforms and find the readers wherever they may be.
    You’re welcome to contact me directly at omer@touchoo.com and I’ll be glad to tell you about some of the options.

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