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March 15, 2013

Kids’ Educational Apps – An Indie Dev’s Final Frontier
byGeorge KaraviasinPlatforms

I am wondering if you know that there is an SXSWedu event. Well I can’t blame you if you don’t, it is the third year it is running and it sounds a bit off when you think of SXSW and “Keep Austin weird”. If you don’t then it will even come more as a surprise to learn that Bill Gates delivered the closing keynote to a standing-only room of 2,500 people.  On top of that, Apple revealed to TechCrunch a couple of weeks ago that they have sold more than 8 million iPads to educational institutions worldwide (4.5 million to U.S. schools).

You might have started thinking that putting together an educational app may not be such a bad idea, I mean how hard can it be? How about checking out the App Store’s top 200 paid list of iPad educational apps? Just by going through it, even if you don’t know who is who, you will see a lot of indie developers. Let me save you the trouble and give you the rundown. Of the top 200, 70% are kids’ educational apps. Out of these, roughly 80% are by independent developers, and only 20% from well-known publishers like Disney, Nickelodeon, Sesame Street, etc. This is really impressive to say the least.

But before you team up with a teacher and start coding that idea, hold on. For every developer who is succeeding, there are 20 who are struggling to see noticeable sales. To make matters worse, only 20% of the developers present in 2009 were still active in 2012 (iLearn II – “An Analysis of the Education Category of Apple’s App Store”).

All of this translates to the indication that there are still great opportunities in kids’ educational apps right now, but there is also a lot of risk. That is why the kids’ educational apps market is an indie dev’s “final frontier”. So before you set off to “boldly go where no man has gone before”, here is a survivor kit to keep in mind when navigating those treacherous waters:

1)    App stores lack specific categorizations

No single app store has a separate category of kids’ educational apps. So kids’ educational apps are all scattered in a number of categories. In the Apple App Store they are scattered across Education, Games/Educational, Games/Kids, Books, etc., and in the Windows Phone Marketplace between Education and Kids + Family. Keep that in mind as you pick your category and since there is no right or wrong,  don’t be afraid to experiment.

2)    Never ever forget market segmentation

It is an easy assumption to make but it is one that you must always keep in mind. Education differs across countries considerably, it is not only the language and cultural barriers, but also that educational topics are approached in different angles. In the US the past three years the Common Core Standards initiative has been put together that provides a clear understanding of what students are expected to learn so teachers and parents now what to do to help them. CCS can be a very useful roadmap when you are thinking of your app. Lastly always factor in that localization will not be easy and it will cost more than it would normally do.

3)    You have limitations on your monetization strategy

With stories of a 5 year old spending $2.500 on iPad apps in 10 minutes hitting the news frequently be very careful of your monetization strategy. I am not arguing to exclude In App Purchases but be very cautious about your implementation and disclose this information to parents.

4)    Be wary of COPPA

Talking about disclosures you need to get up to speed with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. You need to have a privacy policy, provide disclosure about data practices and take responsibility for data practices of 3rd party code. Lorraine of Moms With Apps has put together a great reading list on the subject here, which is always updated.

If then you are up to being one of the risk-takers that Bill Gates mentioned in his speech, help change the face of education and make money on the way keep in mind his closing words “In this space, we either improve the quality of education or we stay flat, like we have for the last few decades”, put your soul into it and make great educational apps.

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