Friday, October 12, 2012

Overcoming my Cultural Biases Against Apple

Seattle is a tech area.  There are a plethora of developers.  It is the home of big names like Microsoft, Amazon, and Nintendo. Google and Facebook have some offices here as well.  But Apple is king of the app world and Apple doesn't have a presence in the area.

It isn't like people in Seattle don’t use Apple products, it is just that programmers in the area don’t use Apple products.  I started to notice that I have a deep cultural bias that makes it hard for me to be an iOS app developer. 

Windows has been fed to me since I was a small child.  I received scholarships and free software from Microsoft as a college student.   My boss at my first job was a Microsoft groomed developer and I received lots of training and knowledge from him.  I don’t think of myself as a Microsoft devotee, but it is what I am used to.  

Me as a young girl playing Tetris on a PC running M.S. DOS
I feel like I am late to the app game.  When Apple first advertising, “There is an app for that,” I didn't really understand why you would want apps on a phone.  I didn't have any curiosity about the app store because I dismissed it as an Apple thing.

When the iPad was released I decided it was a device I wanted.  I wanted to be able to read ebooks and blogs from the couch. Yet I cringed at the price, and deep down I felt a bit traitorous in wanting one.  I lucked out and Barnes and Noble came out with the Nook Color. It was cheaper than an iPad and it wasn't Apple. 

Once I had a mobile device, apps started making sense, and I wrote my first Android app. Android is Google and Amazon.  I could get on board with that.  

The kid's app market is mature on iOS, but isn't on Android.  Most of the kid's app developers I have met online sell only on iOS, they use a Mac for all of their development, they have an iPhone and an iPad, and they don’t live in Seattle.  Not one.1 It seemed so odd to me.  Where were all the Seattle developers?2 

The final wake up call, that Seattle isn't the place to be an iOS developer, and that there is a cultural bias at work, is when my friend was able to hook me up with a free Windows Phone.  Perfect!  I have a device to test on so I can release my apps in the Windows app store-- a market often mocked as desolate and thus pointless to target.  

It is said that identifying the problem is the first step to resolving it.  Maybe now that I recognize my aversion to Apple, I can get over it and embrace the platform…  while I work on Android and Windows as well. 
1 I did find a group in Vancouver, CA so I guess that is kind of close, though in a different country.
2 There are plenty of Seattle Android developers, but since so few Android developers target kids I have yet to find any in the area.


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Folio Academy Videos Teach You to Draw

The cheapest way to get things done is to do it myself.  Each app I make I have to weigh the costs and benefits of doing it myself, or finding someone else to help me out.  There are many wonderful creators on the internet who provide free licensing of images and music through the Creative Commons License, or provide very reasonably priced assets.   I have used vector graphics found at and sounds from

Graphics are a struggle for me.  They are arguably the most important aspect of an app, especially a children’s app.  Beautiful graphics equal a great app.  Unfortunately as a startup I don’t have a budget to hire a graphic artist.  I can afford a small amount to purchase some vector art, but don’t have the funds to get real quality artwork.  There is a bit of a chicken and egg problem here, because maybe I won’t sell as many apps due to poor artwork.  If I was a hopeless artist I think I would be more willing to fork out some money, but I can passably reproduce some art.  I recognize that I am not a professional artist, but I think to an uncritical eye what I make is passable.

Like everything, I feel like if I practiced and trained myself I could get better.  That is where comes in.  I read Will Terry’s blog and enjoy his writing style, his drawings, and his willingness to share his knowledge.  For writing this piece I will receive a free video lesson.  I'm always intrigued about learning via the internet and this is a wonderful opportunity to see if I can get some quality instruction via a video.  

Now if I can just create a time warp.  I will have enough time to work on my drawing skills, writing skills, marketing skills, game design skill, and then the apps I create will be the most amazing ever! 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Kids Educational Game Design

Behind the Scenes and Thoughts on Game Play for Kids Pattern Recognition

Kids Pattern Recognition is a math game for kids where the objective is to find the missing element in a pattern.  There are 120 ABAB and ABCABC patterns.  The difficulty level is about right for most four and five year old children.

I decided on doing a pattern app because I believe that strong math skills later in life come from a really good foundation of practical number sense and logic.  Recognizing, identifying and creating patterns are the basis of practically all learning, not just math. Human brains are always categorizing, and looking for similarities and differences in all we see and do.  Recognizing patterns in unusual places is a large part of what drives innovation and creativity.

A book I read called The Talent Code, talks about how deliberate practice strengthens the connections in the brain.  Mastery of a skill is developed by doing something over and over and over.  In doing so your body creates a substance called myelin that line the pathways for the skill in your brain and makes the skill easier, faster, and remembered. 

Drilling is a common teaching technique to obtain mastery, yet two aspects of repetitive practice are hard to overcome.  The first being attention span, the second being efficiency.  While drilling might be the best way to develop a skill it can become boring.  It is easier to spend a little bit of time to get good enough, then a lot of time to master a skill.   A computer game is ideal for drilling because you can provide the psychological challenge and reward system of a game to avoid boredom, along with a lot of problems in a short amount of time. 

Every good game has a narrative.  The story for Kids Pattern Recognition is that three bad aliens, a leader and two minions, kidnap a bunch of cute alien monsters.  The hero takes his rocket ship into space to rescue the cute aliens and lock up the bad aliens.  He travels to three galaxies that have approximately thirteen planets each.  There are only kidnapped aliens on a few of the planets.  Many educational games use an excessive amount of praise for rewards (ie “good job”, “you are smart”, etc).  While it seems innocuous, many psychologists and educational experts say excessive praise can back fire and make the child feel less interested and less accomplished.  In Kids Pattern Recognition the reward is moving to the next planet and getting closer to rescuing a cute alien.  The kidnapped aliens are placed intermittently to avoid diluting the accomplishment of a rescue.  At the end of each galaxy is where a bad guy is confronted. First you have to capture the minions, and in the final galaxy you get the leader.  The game play changes slightly in these levels to add a twist to the challenge. 

In the regular levels you must solve three patterns without making more than four mistakes.  In the final level of each galaxy you have to solve an unknown number of patterns before the time runs out.  By imposing limits in the game play, the child has to focus on the patterns and not just touch the screen randomly to get the correct answer. 

I am new at game making, and was unsure if the techniques I was using were executed well enough.  My daughter loved the game, but it was hard to tell if she liked it because I made it, or because she is just enthusiastic about everything.  Beta testing also seemed favorable and now that the app is live feedback has been really positive.  Kids in the target age group are engaged in the game and enjoy playing it repeatedly. Hopefully they are gaining good foundational experience in comparing, contrasting, and observing, as well.

What's Next:
There will be two or three more games of increasing difficulty added to this story line.

Purchase Kids Pattern Recognition from the following app markets:

Kids Pattern Recognition - Beginner (Preschool and Kindergarten) - Corvid Apps

Five free copies will be given away for iPhone/iPad in a giveaway contest for App Friday at 7:30am PST