App Friday: iTouchiLearn Words

Welcome to App Friday, our weekly link exchange of family-friendly apps. This week we explore early childhood education with iTouchiLearn Words by Jane Scarano of Staytoooned and iPhoneKidsApps. If you have toddlers and preschoolers who are working on their words, this app provides engaging activities for budding language skills. Jane recently released an iPad version with additional interactive features – details below!

 What is your app about? iTouchiLearn Words for Preschool Kids features animations and word activities wrapped in an easy-to-navigate interface. Toddlers and preschoolers are treated to entertaining animations that teach them about the context of words along with engaging word games. It centers around three activities: Find the Picture that matches the word; Match the Word; and Animations that tell a story about related words in action. iTouchiLearn Words for Preschool Kids comes in two flavors: iPhone and iPad. The iPad version takes full advantage of the iPad’s high definition and size capabilities. This version adds a matching game and a pie chart spinner that lands on a random activity when a child taps the spinner, plus additional content.

Why is it special? What makes this app special are the cute and engaging animations that teach toddlers and preschoolers about the context of words and actions while making them laugh. The animations deliver a multi-sensory experience. A child can hear a word spoken, see the word spelled out and watch an animation of the word in action. This brings words to life and improves word retention. Each word activity provides virtual rewards for correct answers to reinforce and retain what they have learned.

What’s in it for me? See for yourself how mobile touch technology provides an enriching learning experience for your toddler and preschool child. Download iTouchiLearn Words (iPhone) for FREE or iTouchiLearn Words (iPad) for HALF PRICE this App Friday, August 6th!  NOTE: The apps usually revert back to original price on the iTunes Store by 8pm U.S. Pacific Time on Friday August 6th.

Related Apps by Staytoooned:  iTouchiLearn Spanish Words  (iPhone) teaches your preschooler about words in Spanish. Through animation and fun word activities, your child will learn and retain Spanish words at a very young age.  Staytoooned also publishes apps for kids, and if you have an idea for an app, we would be happy to hear from you and help you publish yours. In addition, our iPhoneKidsApps Blog helps families and friends explore the educational value of mobile touch technology.

More Apps by the developers of Moms With Apps: Click to the page tabs at the top of our blog to scroll through lists of apps for kids and families. We highlight apps for learning, fun & creativity, reading, special needs, travel, and last but not least, parents. 🙂

App Friday Link Exchange Our goal at Moms With Apps is to spread the word about family-friendly apps. Do YOU have a favorite app to share? Please participate in our link exchange and post it down below. Include the app name in the Link Title, your email, and a URL to the app. Thanks for your participation!

From Technophobe to Mom iPhone App Creator

Our feature this week is from Anthea, a mother of two boys and a founder of StoryBoy (makers of interactive eBooks for kids). Anthea talks about her technological progression from regular cell phones to the iPhone, and how the iPhone inspired Storyboy’s creation of over 20 book apps for kids. She also shares insight about the role technology plays in her family on a daily basis – news that resonates with many fellow iPhone moms!

About a year ago, I took a leap of faith and jumped off the corporate bandwagon to help my husband and his brother with their start-up, SkyVu Pictures, to create children’s e-books for the iPhone. When I first started in the app business, I was still using my old Nokia 6300 and frankly, quite happy with it. My cell-phone philosophy had always been, “I just need a basic model that I can use to call, text and take photos with.”

Enter the iPhone 3GS. It took me a couple of weeks to get used to the device, and for a while, I carried my Nokia with me as well. I felt more comfortable using the Nokia for my phone, and used the iPhone primarily to test our apps. But the iPhone finally prevailed when I traveled to attend a convention.

To my joy, I discovered that I didn’t need to bring a laptop or a digital camera if I had an iPhone. I could check my e-mail on-the-go, surf the internet, take photos, and demo our app, using a single device. It was fabulous! Following that discovery, my iPhone and I have been inseparable. I’ve joined the legions of iPhone moms who swear that they can’t live without it. This is all the more true since my job revolves around creating and promoting StoryBoy iPhone apps.

The pitfall is that I now feel incomplete without my phone. It’s the last thing that I put down before I fall into bed, and the first thing I pick up when I wake up! The other day, my five-year-old caught me checking e-mail while waiting at a red light and wanted to know why I could use the phone in the car when he’s not allowed to. That’s a good question. It’s risky to try and check messages or make calls when you’re driving, and after my son’s comment, I’ve resolved to limit my use of the phone in the car. I never answer calls when I’m driving so why should checking e-mail or texting be the exception? I think the iPhone’s ability to allow you to multi-task and respond instantaneously through various channels to be liberating and debilitating at the same time.

The New York Times published an article on June 9 about The Risks of Parenting While Plugged In. The feature photo showed a family of four having breakfast with Dad on his laptop, Mom checking her iPhone, the five or six-year-old daughter playing with an iPhone/iPod Touch and the toddler eating breakfast. I’m sure it’s a picture that resonates with many of us, especially those in the business.

It’s ironic that I used to be, and still am to a certain degree, one of those moms who always shunned exposing my kids to too much technology. But what is too much?  I guess that varies from family to family, but I limit my kids’ screen time, which includes television, computer, iPad/iPhone and Leapster (the closest thing we have to a game console before the iPad) time to no more than 1-2 hours a day. There are so many other forms of active play, so I try to encourage mine to explore other options when they are available.

During our Father's Day barbeque this past weekend, I had the kids play outdoors and do some sidewalk painting before dinner.

When we first brought home the iPad in April, I refrained from showing it to my kids for more than a week because I knew that the battle would begin once they got their hands on it. Sure enough, my two boys (5 and 2 years old) have fights when we give them iPad time. I recently implemented a reward system surrounding iPad time for my oldest son. He only gets to play with the iPad when he’s finished his homework for the day. And this also applies to the iPhone and the computer. So far he doesn’t get to play on digital technology every day nor does he demand to. I often give him non-media options like a craft activity or board game as an alternative. And even though I’ve produced more than 20 StoryBoy book apps, I still read from printed books to my kids every night because I am at heart a traditionalist and love the look and feel of printed media. Book apps are a great way to entertain and educate the kids especially when you’re on the move, but I don’t believe they are meant to be a replacement for parents reading to their children.

Today’s technology is marvelous. It frees you up to do so many things that weren’t imaginable just five years ago. As my family plans an upcoming vacation that will involve a 20-hour plane journey with two kids, I am thankful that we will have in our carry-on an iPad, two iPhone and probably an iPod nano to keep the entire family entertained during the long journey. It will be liberating to leave behind the heavy books and games that we lugged on our previous trips. The kids will probably get a lot more than their recommended 1-2 hours of screen time during the journey, but I’m okay with that since it will probably save my sanity during the trip.

App Friday: Little Blue Penguin

Welcome to App Friday, our weekly link exchange of family-friendly apps. Today we are featuring a storybook app that families can cuddle up with: Little Blue Penguin. Produced by MobiStories, creators of award-winning digital books, this app blends words, illustrations, music and interactivity to make storytelling at bedtime a hit for everyone.

What is your app about? Little Blue Penguin is a book app that integrates storytime with engagement.  A sweet tale about a toy penguin’s journey as a beloved stuffed pet, this app provides cause-and-effect learning opportunities with user-directed animations on each page.  Sound effects and a musical score move the story gently along.  Readers can learn a new language as the text and narration can be switched from any page to English, Spanish or Chinese.  Hear the story in one language while following the words in another to increase language understanding.  Fun, interactive questions at the end of the story allow the reader to check their comprehension and memory of the story. Great for young, new or early readers ages 4 – 8 years old.

Why is it special?What’s special about Little Blue Penguin is it’s ability to maintain traditional storytime while offering just enough interactivity to engage kids without detracting from the story.  The introduction of alternate languages, the ability to mix and match text and narration within those languages, and the comprehension quiz create a reading experience that is unique to book apps.

What’s in it for me? For App Friday, MobiStories is offering FREE DOWNLOADS ON JUNE 4th of Little Blue Penguin from the iTunes App Store. But act quickly, because Little Blue Penguin will turn into a pumpkin and go back to regular price after bedtime!

Related Apps MobiStories offers a variety of book apps for different reading levels/ages in the iTunes App Store, including President Barack Obama in Pictures, Michelle Obama in Pictures, bilingual puzzle board books, and their latest masterpiece: The Marvelous Toy. Still thirsty for words? Check out our NEW Apps for Reading page from the developers at Moms With Apps.

App Friday Link Exchange Our goal at Moms With Apps is to spread the word about family-friendly apps. Do YOU have a favorite app to share? A book app, or just one your family enjoys? Please participate in our link exchange and post it down below. Include the app name in the Link Title, your email, and a URL to the app. Thanks for your participation!

Thinking About Android: Perspectives from a Parent / iPhone Developer

Our feature this week is from Scott Weiner, Dad developer over at Weiner Family Studios and creator of the hit travel app Family Matters. He and his family worked as a team to create a game-changing app that made ranks on the iTunes App Store. I’m not surprised. His dedication to family values, innovative technology, charitable contributions and team collaboration has topped all of our charts. Enjoy reading his insights on the great Apple vs. Android debate. If you are considering multi-platform support for your mobile apps, Scott’s article is a good place to start.

I started developing iPhone applications about a year ago because of an idea my wife had. She knew I liked to program as a hobby, and that my kids loved the iPod touch. She thought we should combine the two and involve the family in a project. The result was our first commercial iPhone app called Family Matters, which spent a few weeks on top of the iTunes travel chart and was a great overall experience.

In January 2010 it was time to get a new phone. I was considering the iPhone, but my company plan is on Verizon.  I decided to get an Android phone and considered the possibility of porting my app to that platform.

My wife and I decided we would each get an Android phone and evaluate them as both phones and parenting tools.  We spent a week with each of the available Android phones (Motorola Droid, Nexus ONE, HTC Eris, etc.) and ended up with the HTC Eris.  We created evaluation criteria for what we thought was important as both developers and parents (the target audience for our apps).

As developers we were concerned with:

  1. Size of market
  2. Multi-device and OS support issues
  3. Supportive marketplace
  4. Quality and pricing of the applications in the marketplace
  5. Piracy

As parents we were concerned with:

  1. Ease of use of the phone
  2. Variety and cost of family-oriented applications
  3. Ability to assess and find applications good for our family
  4. Ease of upgrading the applications
  5. Parental controls

Our findings on Android from a developer perspective

Size of Market

Every developer wants to make sure they have a large enough market for profitability. Even if you have a free app, you want to be sure that enough people will appreciate your offering. Recent data indicates Android ships 60,000 apps per day and Apple ships 97,000 apps per day. This is really good news (see “Comparing Android Phone Shipments With iPhone, BlackBerry”). Note: I don’t know if this includes iPods and iPads. I suspect it doesn’t but Android’s numbers are still good.

Multi-device and OS Support Issues

One concern we had was that the Android might behave differently on various phones, meaning developers need to support a variety of phone implementations and hardware. From our perspective this is a weakness of the platform. Variety of phones and OS implementations might be good for consumers, but it is troubling and costly for small developers.

Supportive Marketplace

By “supportive marketplace” I mean a shopping experience that allows consumers to find our application, and a platform that encourages people to purchase the applications.  Even though the Android Marketplace may be a tenth of the size of the iPhone App Store, it is still large and growing.  We want to know that people can locate our application and have the information they need to make a purchasing decision quickly and easily.

When we first tried the Android Marketplace it was an awful experience. Searching would often not locate apps even when we typed the exact name. Furthermore, we could search on the same term and actually get different results – bizarre. The categories were almost meaningless and there was no way to filter by paid or free. Since the update to 2.1 on our Eris, the market has improved. The categories are more helpful and the buying process is pretty easy on the phone.

However, the lack of an iTunes Store equivalent has proven to be a big deal for us. In January we were on Apple’s “What’s Hot” list, and through informal surveys we found that large numbers of the parents found us not on their phone but from the larger pictures on their computer via the iTunes App Store “What’s Hot” promotion. iTunes is such a centerpiece of media management for users of any of Apple’s products that it becomes an effective marketing tool as well. Unfortunately, there is no equivalent experience on Android so we have to hope the phone experience is sufficient to encourage people to try new applications.

One other concern is it doesn’t feel like anyone is at the wheel. iTunes App Store has What’s Hot, Staff Picks, New & Noteworthy, and Apps for Kids sections. So as a developer of family apps I feel like there is a chance that if I produce a quality product Apple’s marketing machine may support me. Not only do I have a shot at a front-and-center promotion on the App Store but my app could end up in a television commercial (yeah that’ll happen).

That brings me to a personal gripe – the commercials. Apple advertises their phone and ultimately their OS as a way of getting things done.  Many of their commercials have messages that resonate with my target audience of parents (See Apple’s Family Man Commercial). The only Android commercials I have seen are techie appeals for openness by Google (see Android Commercial) and ones from Motorola/Verizon showing off a giant robot arm taking over the world with a Droid (I couldn’t locate the “Droid Does” commercial online but you know the one).  I don’t have a clue who they are advertising to but I know it isn’t helping me sell an application that promotes family communication or stimulating my audience.

Quality and Pricing

Why should I care about the quality of other applications and their pricing? As a parent I know that if the majority of the apps are garbage then I am going to stop looking for good value and ultimately not bother buying or even downloading free ones.  Overall the quality of the Android marketplace is OK, but the lack of consistency in this “open” platform leaves me uncertain.

I also care about price because if great apps are given away at bargain basement prices, then the market has set a low value on them.  In the Android marketplace there are a lot of free apps so the expectation for FREE is high. I’m hopeful this is just a short-lived issue for developers. There are some really great apps already on this platform so I think this will just get better.

Piracy

Piracy is a fact of life on every platform. What I want is some level of control so honest people stay honest. I expect some level of piracy and don’t consider this a platform issue. On the iPhone, however, you have to jailbreak to pirate and you need a tool and some level of technical expertise. This restricts the number of pirates to a small fraction of the population. There is no such restriction on the Android platform. I was amazed how easy it is to pirate on the platform and how rampant it is already. You don’t need special versions; you don’t need special software; you don’t need special skills. I can’t see any reason why every developer shouldn’t expect a much larger percentage of their application copied illegally. This is somewhat demoralizing for a small developer.

Our findings from a parent’s perspective

As a parent and owner of two Android phones I’m also interested in how the platform will work for my family. I appreciate the quality, variety, and easy installation of iPhone apps.  I’m hoping to see similar value from Android so it becomes a viable tool for us to entertain, educate and communicate when we are mobile as a family.

Ease of use

The ease of use issue for us matters because if the phone is complicated it won’t get used for anything but making calls.  As developers, we need you to love using the phone and its various capabilities. I’ll start by saying this:  Android is no iPhone. We actually had the same experience on all Android phones, not just Eris. However, if you feel it may be less controversial to focus solely on our phone that is OK with me. There may be a dozen ways you can say that Android is technically better than iPhone, but when it comes to simplicity and comfort and an “it just works” feeling, Android isn’t even close in our experience.  The number of hours we had to spend to customize and configure and research to get this to feel comfortable was astounding. What this means to us is that parents may get this phone and potentially lose interest in downloading apps. For us it just isn’t as addictive as the iPhone experience.

Another weakness we found is ironically one of the most touted strengths of Android: multitasking.  One of the big claims to fame for Android has been the idea you can run multiple apps at once. For us what this means in a practical sense is if you are trying to do one thing there may be something in the background running which can slow down the phone, or pop up unexpectedly, or fail to quit properly. Many times I went to hang up a call and it took several seconds for the call to quit because of something running in the background. For the non-technical user it makes the experience unpredictable and less enjoyable.

Android is alright for ease of use, but not great. We know the best thing we can do is make sure our app is considerate of the multitasking environment. We expect iPhone 4.0 multitasking support may introduce some of the same issues.  The possible difference, I suspect, is that Apple will require a certain amount of compliance with what they consider good practices, and Android will most likely stay the “Wild West” for some time.

Variety and Cost

As a parent I want a variety of applications to choose from.  Competition is great for me and encourages me to see “what’s new”.  Although Android is increasing its volume of apps, trying to find quality apps for my family is still difficult.  Many apps don’t have pictures on the marketplace so you don’t even know what it looks like before you buy it. The family categories don’t seem well organized, so I found it a little difficult to find the apps. This is great news for MomsWithApps and other websites that help people discover those gems that the marketplace doesn’t highlight.

Cost of apps is on the low side which is great for parents but I did feel like there is still a lot of experimentation going on.  I would find two apps for first grade math and one was .99 and one was 2.99 and I couldn’t see any difference in the quality.  I think the market will sort these price issues out over time as it has on the App Store.

Ability to Assess Apps

One of the most difficult things for a parent to do is figure out which apps are really good for their family before purchasing them. Personally I do the following:

  1. Read reviews
  2. Look at screenshots
  3. See what other apps parents purchased
  4. Check out review sites if it is an expensive app

All of these are possible with the Android market, but many of the apps don’t have screenshots, which can deter a purchase.

Ease of upgrade

One thing we have learned from the iPhone is that upgrading is key.  Apps that upgrade often are considered “better value” assuming the upgrades include features and not just bug fixes. If the upgrade process isn’t smooth, a user will view upgrades as a burden, which could cause support headaches for developers too.

The general flow of upgrading an Android app is similar to the iPhone: a user views the app in the marketplace, sees which ones have upgrades available, and clicks the upgrade button. But from my experience the updates didn’t always happen, and there was no indicator of a problem.

If I had multiple apps to update it was much worse. First, there is no “update all”, so updating each individual app was necessary. One time I had 15 apps that had updates. That was not fun. It almost turned me off to the platform altogether – it was that frustrating.

As an aside, the whole install process needs some work. Once you install an app it does not appear in your workspace, so you have to locate it in the list and then manually place it.  This adds a lot of steps and reduces overall usability. Deleting an app also lacks refinement. To delete an app you have to locate it in the settings and then delete it. This might add about 4-6 additional steps based on our typical usage patterns. I am much less likely to try an app if it is going to be a hassle to get rid of if I don’t like it. This means as a developer I believe I will get fewer casual users. Small things like this add up. They really need to improve the install/upgrade/delete process so updates are seen as a good thing and not something to dread.

Parental controls

Parental control is currently a very weak area on Android. On the iPhone I can control what content is downloadable, what major apps are allowed to run, even what type of music can be loaded. In addition, Apple restricts a ton of inappropriate content so I don’t have to worry as much. As far as I can tell there is nothing like this built into Android. I feel like I have to scrutinize every single app and can never let my kids make an impulse download or purchase.  This will drastically restrict my family buying habits.

Conclusion

Writing an article like this is bound to rile some people who are advocates or invested in one platform or another. My goal was to evaluate if this platform was right for me and then share my observations in the hopes they may prove useful to others. I would love to hear about the exeriences of others. I also realize that the Android platform keeps evolving and new phones are coming out all the time. Even while writing this article we saw some better phones appear like the HTC Incredible (and of course iPhone 4.0 is coming).

Overall the Android developer outlook is good. It’s a growing market and a powerful platform. I don’t think the market support for small developers is great right now and I am hoping they will improve this. It doesn’t mean it isn’t a good opportunity, but it seems there is less chance of getting noticed right now.

As a parent I’m less optimistic. I think for the time being I will stick to using my iPod for kids’ games and educational tools, while using my Eris for calls, business needs and occasional entertainment.  I’m put off some by the lack of parental controls but mainly I just find the app management to be too cumbersome and don’t want to waste time customizing the phone. Obviously this is a personal choice, but I know that most parents don’t have time to play with their phone. They just need it to work.

I’ll keep an eye on how the market progresses. Multi-platform competition is great news for developers. I suspect for people like me, developing on Android may only be a matter of time.

Why I Love My iPhone

Our feature this week is from Lisa Brandolo Johnson, co-founder of Grembe iPhone Apps and mother to three growing children. Lisa and her husband created a series of applications to help families march forward together. Their apps cover interactive communication, special needs, motivation, and record keeping. You name it, they are making it! Filled with creative energy and tremendous inspiration, this “Mom With Many Apps” shares why she values technology and how she uses it in her own own home.

I recently read a post on Twitter that asked “How do you know if someone you meet has an iPhone? Just wait a minute and they’ll probably tell you.”  It rang true for me since the iPhone did change my life. It sounds kind of silly since that is what people say about having kids too, but it is true.

Kids do change your life. They bring you lots of wonder but they also take up a lot of your time. As they grow up a little and become a little less dependent on you for their every need, moms need to find balance between the many parts of life that demand time. Kids, husbands, jobs, family, friends, hobbies, and our health. The balance can be elusive. That is why I love my iPhone. I’m not saying it equates to my mother-in-law watching the kids twice a week so I can still have a career, or the friend who will take my kids at the last minute if I need a break, but the iPhone does make my life easier.

Some nights I might get very little sleep if one of the kids is sick. I may have very little energy to care for my 3 young children. Instead of sitting them in front of the TV, I can lie in bed with them and my iPhone can read to us. We love the quality children’s literature by PicPocket Books, Storyboy, and Touchoo. We can all cuddle up together and no one knows if I close my eyes for a few minutes.

There are times when we have to wait in long lines, on bleachers while another child participates in a sport, or at a doctors office. Sure, we love talking together, but sometimes an educational diversion really comes in handy. I may have forgotten paper and crayons, but I can hand my child my iPhone and they can let their imagination soar with My Little Suitcase, or practice sorting, counting, or writing with TickleTapApps bundle pack.
Today was not only Mother’s Day, but also my daughter’s 6th birthday.  There was a lot to do. Her favorite breakfast was being made, preparations for a visit with family were underway, new toys were waiting to be taken out of their packaging, and all the while I wanted to capture her, the essence of her, on her birthday. Six years have gone by fast. My Pictures Talk allowed me to snap her photo and record her voice telling me what six years old meant to her. She wanted a porcelain plate and mug this am, not a plastic one from IKEA, because she was six. She is smart, she is tall, she knows how to take care of her brothers. She is six and I’ve got it all recorded with her picture on my iPhone.

My iPhone is fast becoming that object I’d try and rescue in a fire. It has memories on it that I don’t want to lose.  Sure I could grab a camcorder, but in the bustle of my home life, grabbing my iPhone and using apps is much easier.  In my attempts to balance all the pieces of motherhood, I love the things that help me parent more effectively.  Of course that list includes family and friends, but it also includes my iPhone.