Unicode 9.0 and New Emoji Candidates

I discovered Unicode.org after doing some research on emoji history, and became fascinated with the resources listed on their website. Unicode.org is the online home of the Unicode Consortium, the group who maintains universal standards for computer encoding. Their work ensures computers around the world process and interpret text in a standard way.

Why is the Unicode Consortium becoming so popular?

The Unicode Consortium is reaching celebrity status because image-based emoji characters (which are part of Unicode) are highly popular forms of text communication. They are used in text messages, emails, and throughout social media. In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary named an emoji as “Word of the Year” in 2015.

Whether or not you’re an emoji fan, their use and prevalence are indisputable. Personally, I think emoji are fun and creative. They spark bright conversations over text messaging with images to humanize the tone.

Which emoji candidates are coming next?

I was curious about the list of emoji candidates on the Unicode website. So many cultural implications exist on this very page. For example, gender equality issues are represented with the addition of a prince, dancing man, and Mother Christmas (to match the existing princess, dancing woman, and Santa Claus). Endangered species are portrayed with the inclusion of animals like the gorilla and rhino. Even healthy eating gets a boost with a superfood (avocado!) being added to the list.

emoji candidatesWhat a fascinating and potentially stressful job it would be to decide the next emoji. Did you know that anyone can make a proposal for a new emoji? The submission process is explained in detail on the Unicode website ==> http://www.unicode.org/emoji/selection.html

Which emoji is used the most?

Curious about which characters are used the most? Unicode.org links to a site called emojitracker.com, which displays the world’s most tweeted emoji characters in real-time. Looks like the crying happy face is still holding first place.

Stay tuned. From what the Unicode Consortium says, final decisions on candidates for Unicode 9.0 will be made in June 2016. At that point we shall see if Mrs. Claus makes the cut. 

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

The Artful Photography of Young Teens on Instagram

At this stage of family life I’m able to observe young teens as they start to join Instagram. My initial concerns about bullying or addiction have been appeased by their thoughtfully considered creative expression through photography. I realize that managing technology in the home is going to be a constant effort, but I’m also grateful that our first foray into social media has been a positive one.

To illustrate my point, I received permission to share these images from a special young teen in my Instagram network. As we become surrounded by messages about technology overriding our lives, I hope this post can provide some confidence that when used responsibly, digital tools can help us explore the world in innovative ways, bridging perspectives across generations.  

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These photographs show me someone who notices a range of life’s details from tiny to grand. As a kid, I don’t think I ever noticed the view my father always talked about. But with tools in hand, young teens now have an opportunity to participate and play in that view. And therefore the view can become much more fun – for everyone.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

How We Manage Online Homework to Avoid Scope Creep

By seventh grade, 75% of my daughter’s daily homework moved online. Aside from a few math problems and group projects, most essays, quizzes and assignments are constructed and completed through Edmodo or Google Classroom. I noticed the difference about halfway through the year when less paper seemed to clutter the desk. Instead, the Chromebook and charging cord took center stage.

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If you have a teen, it may come as no surprise that they don’t appreciate being micromanaged. My concern with computer-based homework are the inherent distractions present with multiple websites and constant classmate interactions. Those interactions take up time: time that can be better spent completing the actual homework assignment or hanging out with family after it’s done.

How could I encourage a focused approach to homework without being annoying? While it’s tough to solve the annoying part, we are making progress on managing computer-based homework so it does not overtake family life. Here is how:

Eat First

My kids eat before they start homework. An after school meal settles everyone in the household so they are relaxed and recharged for brainwork.

Analog Before Digital

We review the homework that needs to be done for the day, and they choose the discrete analog homework first. This way, online distractions are delayed by starting with paper-based homework.

Time Estimate

I ask for a time estimate on the total amount of homework before they begin. Do they have an hour or three hours of homework? Then we calculate what time they should be finished. Now, they are accountable for finishing on time.

Check In

Whatever the time estimate, I make a note to check in a couple of times to see if the end time needs to be adjusted. These check-ins can be bothersome if it disrupts their focus or stresses them out, so I try to keep check-ins to no more than once per hour.

Bedtime

I used to think a regular bedtime was especially important for toddlers and young children. Now I feel it’s even more important for teens in a modern world to take bedtime seriously. We have a consistent bedtime every night, and the goal is to keep homework from interfering with sleep.

By next year my girls will be older and no doubt we’ll need to adjust as technology changes. But for now, this plan is working so we’re sticking to it. If you have any experience to share, especially as kids get into high school, I would be interested in your thoughts.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Let’s Take A Closer Look At Pretend Play

I’m hearing lots of buzz from the annual Toy Fair in New York City, a time for showing the latest in gear and gadgets for kids. As my children grow, I keep wondering when they will start asking for connected gadgets and gizmos. Have I kept them in the dark for too long? Am I an old-school dinosaur disguised as a Bay Area Mom? Maybe so, maybe so. But when my girls have days like this, just playing with their dolls…well, I’m just not going to fix what isn’t broken.

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The images above represent a “school day” for the dolls. It started with making and painting doll food out of clay, continued with a schoolhouse and homework, and ended with a smoothie bar complete with granola bars and snacks. If these dolls were connected (for example, smart toys associated with an app or online portal) my concern is that ideas from toy designers would trump organically grown ideas from kids.

If pressed about digital equivalents for this type of pretend play, apps that let children set up scenes and do the talking come first to mind. My favorite has always been My PlayHome, but I would also add Toca City Life or even Dr. PetPlay to that recommendation. All of these apps offer open-ended scenarios for children to explore, and try to let kids dictate the outcomes. I also think it’s encouraging to see companies like Toca Boca advocate for creativity through efforts like “Take a Stand for Play”, which is a campaign to highlight the importance of unstructured downtime.

It is truly amazing to see what happens on a regular day at home with a real-life playmate, a few dolls, and some materials for pretend play. May all families delight in this youthful ingenuity, and make the time and space for it where possible.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

How High School Students Are Solving The World’s Problems

This month I was invited to be a judge for the Congressional App Challenge. The App Challenge is a coding competition for high school students put in place to help support STEM education. Our district (the 18th Congressional District) received ten entries to be evaluated on parameters such as creativity, innovation, technical expertise and app design.

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What I thought would be a simple review of app demos turned into an inspiring connection with today’s talented youth. As a parent myself, I sometimes worry about what high school will be like for my own children. The App Challenge eased some of those concerns by introducing me to students who are thriving and succeeding at real world problem solving.

Let’s read, for example, the topics they addressed:

Food waste

Equal access for college preparatory testing

Safe and undistracted driving

Political education through interactive competition

Food nutrition

Tools for helping after a car accident

Community service

Volunteer work

Teacher/student communication

Student empowerment

Feel free to read the list again to become even more inspired. All ten entries focused squarely on important issues and social betterment. These apps are designed to help make us safer, healthier, better educated, and more socially conscious. After watching the presentations and reading details about how the apps were constructed, I began to envision the entrants not just as students but as teams of skilled entrepreneurs.

The high school app makers demonstrated a range of technical expertise by coding in a variety of languages including Apple’s Swift 2.0. They also exhibited marketing savvy with cool app names and well designed app icons (which make a big difference in how professional the app looks in app stores). Innovations in app design came through with sleek user interfaces, database integration, and the use of application programming interfaces to perform specific functions.

A public reception to announce the winner will be held on Monday February 22nd at Palo Alto City Hall. The entries can be viewed here https://www.challenge.gov/challenge/congressional-app-challenge-ca-18-rep-eshoo/, and the winning app will be displayed in our nation’s Capital Building for a year.

Although the nature of competition is to measure one idea against another, I consider this entire group of submissions as winners because of their positive influence on others. May they all be successful in future app endeavors!

With encouragement,

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Five Cell-Free Zones To Keep Family Life Centered

I’ve been happy with the balance we’ve found so far with kids, technology and family life. In analyzing our family’s habits, I noticed five daily routines that keep conversations flowing and cell phones in their place. Do you notice similar habits? Let’s drill down:

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School pick ups

I like having my phone off or in my purse during school pick ups. When I’m focused solely on the kids after their long day at school, it’s easy for me to pick up on important details like mood and energy level. After school can be a critical time of day for my kids. How we wind down from the afternoon determines how well we boot up for the evening’s responsibilities.

Sporting events

I like watching my kids play, dance and sing — whatever they happen to be immersed in throughout the seasons. If they see me watching, I simply want them to see a parent who is fully engaged. If I use the phone to snap a photo or answer a text, I try to make sure any digital interaction is quick and not immersive, keeping my attention on the game and players. The details I soak up from watching are helpful for family conversation starters about who played what, and how the event progressed.

Short car rides

Local car rides to school or errands around town are opportunities to ask about life’s little details. How is the school project going? What are you planning to wear to the next school dance? What shall we do this weekend? If my kids are studying their phones instead of chilling out, they would have no time or interest in a conversation. Conversations can be key to keeping relationships on track. The more, the better — and short car rides can be an awesome medium to keep them rolling.

Meals

This is old news because everywhere we turn we’re being told to have family dinner with no devices in sight. But the sentiment is overplayed for a reason. Shared meals are precious. With everyone in the family at the same table, common ground and lively conversations can overcome age divisions. Rings, dings, chimes are vibrations are interruptions that are best put aside until later.

Bedtime

Have you ever studied which nights you get the best sleep? Are they the nights you’ve burned the midnight oil in front of a screen? Or are they the nights you’ve gotten into PJs early with a book or a magazine to doze off peacefully? I’ll make a bet which situation works best for the ultimate zzzzzs.

That’s five? Oh boy. I have one more. Here is a bonus…

Bonus: Playdates with friends!

When friends get together, magic sometimes happens. Over the years we’ve hosted playdates involving all kinds of activities like dress-up, water balloons, and treasure hunts. These activities might have been overshadowed if phones got in the way. Sometimes I notice (even if a phone is just being used to play music) that it’s way too easy for a kid to take it and get consumed by something else. Playing together without distractions keeps everyone connected to each other and on the same page.

What side-benefits have you noticed from keeping cell phones out of the mainstream path? I’d love to hear your strategies, and add them to the list.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

The Sweetest Little Apps For Valentine’s Day

It’s still a cozy time of year, a season that’s perfect for sweet storybooks and paper heart crafts. For years I’ve known app makers who capture the spirit of family time, and I’ve listed some of their apps for Valentine’s Day below. Whether you have a paper copy of the books, or just want to reread them on your device, I hope this list gives you plenty of activity ideas for the cold winter months. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Apps for Valentine's Day
Biscuit’s Valentine’s Day (storybook)
Apps for Valentine's Day
Draw With Hearts (open-ended drawing with heart themes) *KWI Member
Apps for Valentine's Day
A Little Book About Feelings (social and emotional learning)*KWI Member
Apps for Valentine's Day
Valentine’s Coloring Book (coloring) *KWI Member
Apps for Valentine's Day
Happy Valentine’s Day, Little Critter! (storybook)
Apps for Valentine's Day
PostMarked (Craft Your Own Love Note)
gifoodles! (make your own animated GIFs – updated for Valentine’s Day, see example below) *KWI Member

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More apps are being released as Valentine’s Day approaches. Please check back if you’d like to add another to your list. Apps with *KWI Member belong to the Know What’s Inside community. 

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

How Tech Startups Use Instagram to Showcase Products

Have you noticed more brands appearing on your Instagram feed? I have, and I’m impressed by their ability to showcase uniquely branded content on a platform dominated by personal expression. When I first thought of Instagram as a marketing tool for app companies, I was tripped up by the inherent limitations of tech products. For example, just how many times can you post a screenshot of an app and make it interesting?

But what I’ve seen from tech startups has been delightful, providing an interesting example of how to creatively express tech’s personal side. Here are three techniques that stand out in my Instagram feed as cool ways to present a technical brand:

Show People Having Fun

Both Sago Sago and Duckie Deck (two app companies) post fun and playful images in their Instagram feeds. Sometimes they show real-life products that compliment their apps, or highlight how young ones use apps in a workshop or beta testing environment.

Share The Startup Journey

Cowly Owl, an independent app company from the United Kingdom, shares a fascinating story through special events. Artistic shots of app demo sessions during international conferences, to scenes of awards banquets where the app is recognized, bring followers along for memorable moments inside the life of an app startup.

Use Quotes or Real Life Anecdotes to Differentiate the Brand

Have you heard of The Skimm? It’s a daily email newsletter with down to earth soundbytes of current events. How do you make a text newsletter worth following on Instagram? Somehow they’ve figured this out. Their feed is interspersed with quotations, images of readers skimming in unique locations, insider shots of office life, and humorous twists on word games (like mad libs).

When thinking about marketing plans, let’s not automatically rule out Instagram just because a product doesn’t feel creative enough. The creativity, comes from us.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

Writing on Medium: A Bloggers’ Guide

If you regularly read articles on the internet, chances are you’ve come across a post published on Medium. I view Medium as a long form adaptation of social media for people with a lot to say. The question is, will Medium replace traditional blogs, or will it enable bloggers to embrace another form of publishing and syndication? I’d like to think it strengthens traditional blogs by providing new outlets for content.

What is Medium?

Medium is a writing platform with streamlined editing tools (headers, images and text) combined with integrated social linkages for liking articles and following their authors. Whether viewed from the desktop or mobile app, Medium is a clean interface without advertisements cluttering the sidebars. Traditional blogs can be overwhelmed with advertisements, and Medium provides a refreshing view where white space is welcome.

What I Like

Social integration

Medium comes pre-loaded with Twitter and Facebook integration so you don’t have to start a social profile from scratch. Connections on Twitter who are also on Medium become part of your network with a simple toggle in settings. If it took years to build up a Twitter following, no need to restart those efforts since the followers come along with you, if you wish.

Personal accounts + branded publications

Medium can accommodate personal accounts and branded accounts in a really slick way. I set up Medium under my own name. However, I was wondering what to do about a branded account for my blog. I discovered that the best place for my blog’s brand would not be a separately managed account (requiring separate email and login), but as a new “publication” created from my account. Publications are Medium pages with their own URL, and are associated with the editor (account owner) who created the page. Stories can be added to the publication by clicking the 3-dot icon at the bottom of each post.

Clean and functional writing interface

The Medium writing editor is so appealing that it’s starting to replace my tendency to draft posts in Google Drive. The editing interface slashes superfluous formatting choices and boldly leaves the basics in place, such as titles, subheadings, links, images, videos, embeds, and lists. In a world of too many choices, this less-is-more approach becomes all I need.

Privacy options

One of my favorite recent quotes is from a BlogHer editor who mentions how “writing begets writing”. We need to start somewhere, and the key is to just get started. Medium offers a private workspace while ideas are taking shape. Drafts can be circulated through a Share link viewable only to those who have the link. Posts can be marked unlisted until you are ready to make them public. With these options, Medium can be used for thinking, archiving, and idea generation in addition to being used as a public writing platform.

Reading what others are writing

Medium articles, which are emailed to me in a Daily Digest, have a thoughtful and introspective tone, sometimes bordering on provocative. With a glance at the top stories I can see which subjects are gaining popularity and observe about how catchy headlines are constructed. If Medium can keep its depth without turning into a Buzzfeed, it feels like a democratic environment where writers can learn and grow.

What I’m Still Learning

The algorithm

Today, Medium reminds me a little of the App Store: tons of content without a clear view on how content gets featured. I understand that sharing special sauce can be proprietary company information, but it would be nice to know if tagging, for example, makes much difference to a post’s visibility. Also, how much content does a follower see, and does follower count make any difference to the popularity of a post? This is an ongoing experiment for me and I plan to share more as I learn more.

Image formatting

There are stunning images on Medium that span the entire page view. There are also image grids to support multiple photos in a single section of the post. Medium’s Help Center explains how to format these images and embed them in your posts.

Letters to publication followers

There is a feature for publications called Letters, and it’s a way for the editors to reach out directly to followers. I have not used this feature, but like the idea of a mail list function that doesn’t require separate mail list management. Will Letters help build more connections? Will Letters be interpreted as spam? Here is what Medium says:

“Letters have the potential to provide what blogs used to through RSS subscriptions. With this, we’ve now made Publications truly a place for people to follow your work and get updates on your ideas, thoughts, and stories. We’d love for you to try it and let us know what you think at yourfriends@medium.com.”

Seamless connections to other channels

If publishing on Medium becomes just another item on the to-do list, traditional bloggers may be deterred from taking on more work. With the help of publishing APIs and IFTTT (if this then that) Recipes, integrating Medium into a blogging routine can become a seamless task. From a preliminary look, there are already 269 ways to connect to Medium through IFTTT: https://ifttt.com/medium.

I’m sure there are plenty of tips and tricks waiting to be discovered, and a full Medium FAQ has been published to help address the learning curve. Meanwhile, I look forward to finding more bloggers on Medium. With our native sense of community and mutual support, opportunities should abound.

Let’s connect! https:[email protected]

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

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Build Family Slideshows with iPhone and Apple TV

Our family was busy making memories over winter break. Many of these memories were captured on iPhone Camera Rolls in a blend of colorful photos and whimsical videos. Wouldn’t it be a shame for another year to go by without a soul enjoying the footage?

Thanks to tech tips from our tweens and the latest Apple technologies, we have modern tools to build slideshows in a flash. Here are five simple suggestions for creating and displaying your family’s content:

Snap photos while taking a video

Sometimes when I’m taking a video, I need to interrupt and switch to photo mode for a still picture. While I was fiddling, a young family friend showed me how to shoot a still while taking a video. From the iPhone Camera, go to video mode and start recording. Once you are recording, click the white button to the left of the red record button. This automatically saves a photo to the iPhone Camera Roll. What I like about this integration is that it encourages short video clips without missing “the shot”, and slideshows come alive with both types of media.

Beam content with Airdrop

When a groups snap photos together, the snapper may get left out of their own photos. For example, as photographer, I have many more photos of my husband and kids versus me and the kids. Airdrop is a great way to collect photos from each iPhoner without having to “email or text them later”, which rarely happens. “Hey, Airdrop that to me” lets you beam it right away to round out the photo album. To Airdrop, swipe up on your iphone, make yourself discoverable, choose a photo, click the share icon, and select Airdrop. Besides, Airdrop literacy may be important to know if you have older kids. I hear teens are using it for all sorts of things. Knowing how privacy settings work in advance could be very helpful to avoid future snafus.

Favorite your best shots

With hundreds or thousands of digital images on a single phone, editing into albums could be a laborious task. But favoriting them by clicking a heart is very simple, and populates an album of top choices at your fingertips. With your favorites identified, ordering prints or playing a slideshow requires less sorting. To favorite, go to Camera Roll, select a photo, and click the heart. To view, go to Camera Roll, view Albums, and select Favorites.

Mirror on Apple TV with Airplay

Why keep awesome holiday images locked up in the confines of your personal device? Apple TV makes it possible to view them on the big screen. To view, turn on Apple TV, swipe up on your iPhone, click AirPlay, click Apple TV, and toggle Mirroring to ON. Make sure wifi is enabled in your Settings. If so, you should be able to see your iPhone screen on the TV.

Select Slideshow for all to see

If you followed steps 1 through 4, you should have a fun album of favorited content in your Camera Roll. Assuming this is true, go to Photos, Albums, Favorites, and select the first picture. Click the share icon, and choose Slideshow as an option from the bottom menu (choices should be Copy, Print, Slideshow, AirPlay, etc.). A dynamic collage of photos and videos will display through Apple TV to preset music. Slideshow options let you choose music, themes and pace. Voila!

The only problem with family slideshow night is that it’s too much fun. Everyone wants to share photos on the big screen. Before you know it, people can’t stop TALKING. Kids retell highlights from their latest trip. Relatives ask questions about the details. Parents gawk at the scenery. All ages, young and old, begin to connect over common multimedia magic, which is refreshing after being glued to individual mini universes for so long.

Lorraine Akemann | Cofounder and Editor | Moms With Apps

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