"That's nice, but what does it do?" Developing an app for Babies
Examining Our Goals in Developing an App for Babies
While visiting with family recently, my mother suggested we demonstrate our first app, iBaby Buttons, for my grandparents. That sounded like fun. Dave eagerly got out his iPad®, opened iBaby Buttons, and proceeded to tap the screen to make and pop buttons. Their initial reaction wasn’t quite what we expected.
“What is it?”
“It’s an app. For babies,” Dave replied.
“But, what is it?”
We quickly realized that not everyone is familiar with the iPad®, or iPhone® for that matter. Dave took a few steps back and began to guide them along in a crash course in touch devices and their uses.
“That’s nice, but what does it do?”
Hmmm. I had never really thought much about iBaby Buttons from an adult perspective. We developed the app as a result of our daughter’s interest in the iPad® and spent several months testing it and changing it based on her experiences with it. She was our audience and she liked it. But now I started thinking. What if a team of archaeologists dig up our iPad® and discover iBaby Buttons (which magically works) a zillion years from now? What would they make of it? Would they, like my grandparents, wonder what on earth it is for? And what is it for, for that matter. The whole experience made me really start to consider exactly what it is we are trying to “do” with our app.
When examining both original and revised goals for iBaby Buttons, here is the list of purposes I have come up with:
1. To create a fun, age appropriate way for babies to explore the iPad.
We decided right away to avoid ads, menu items and anything else a baby could tap that would frustrate her or worse bring her out of the app. We selected photographs and sound effects that might seem interesting or familiar to little ones. We used photos and voices of children in the app, which our daughter really enjoys. And we switched from swiping with one finger to swiping with two fingers when we realized our daughter was changing backgrounds accidentally when trying to create a button. We want to eliminate frustration and allow little ones some independence while playing with the app.
2. To focus on play rather than preschool.
There are many wonderful educational apps available for children to learn the alphabet, numbers, and a variety of other things. Many toddler flash card apps are already on the App Store. And there is plenty of time for our daughter to experience them. We resisted the tempting urge to make the one gigantic “app for everything” app. We decided this time to focus on learning through play.
3. To emphasize cause and effect.
From the very beginning, our vision of this app centered entirely on cause and effect. We know that our daughter loves pushing a button to see what will happen, or pouring water from a glass to watch it spill. And while it may seem a bit obvious, exploring cause and effect relationships is an important way in which babies and toddlers learn through play. Babies love the surprise of watching something happen as a result of an action. In fact, the whole “peek-a-boo” idea was the basis for the original idea behind the app. We eventually took out some of the peek-a-boo photos in the final revision, but left a couple in because our daughter enjoys them. For more information about cause and effect in early childhood development, there is a really nice article on education.com entitled, “A Child’s World of Cause and Effect.”
3. To aid in visual discrimination.
While this was not an original consideration when creating our app, the value of apps to aid in visual discrimination skills is apparent. Because of a helpful suggestion from a speech pathologist, we have added additional backgrounds in our first update of iBaby Buttons to better achieve this goal. See our blog entitled, Developing Visual Discrimination Skills.
4. To keep it simple.
Early versions of our app idea were far different than the end result. Originally, boxes that opened were used instead of buttons. Photographs were arranged in themes or categories that made logical sense to me, the parent, but only served to make the app more complicated. It was important to us that our daughter be able to explore the app independently. The more we simplified, the better the app became. In this instance, less is more.
iBaby Buttons may not have a lot of bells and whistles. In fact, to some it may not even make a whole lot of sense. But our goal of making a simple, enjoyable, age appropriate app for our daughter was met. Now that our daughter is getting older, she is better able to enjoy and appreciate many other wonderful apps available for the iPad®. But she still plays iBaby Buttons from time to time. After all, it is her app.