What inspired you to create your first app?
I had long been using an iPod touch in my classroom as a learning aid. As soon as the iPad was released I immediately began using apps to teach all aspects of language, from introducing new vocabulary to exchanging ideas to expressing opinions. Students usually find learning vocabulary a little boring, so I wanted an app that made it fun. In the early days, finding multi-player apps where you could input your own content for testing students was virtually impossible. For this reason, I put together plans for Futaba Word Games for Kids, which is a customizable application that allows four students to use one iPad and play an exciting fast-paced review game.
Who is the app aimed at?
This really depends on the reading level of students. Because it is fully customizable, learners from aged 3 to 12 would find the most benefit and enjoyment from playing.
How did the app evolve?
Getting the app out in the iTunes store to see how well it would be received was a primary goal. Sales were slow at first, but little by little teachers from all over the world mailed in. They made specific requests for content other than ESL-based material for use in their Kindergarten through 5th grade classrooms. Based on these requests, we decided to rebrand it as Futaba Classroom Games for Kids. Futaba now has a single-player mode, allows teachers to add their own voice to content, and enables teachers to easily share games they’ve created to multiple iPads by use of a class code. Content now includes Japanese, maths, science, geography, music and more.
The app is very slick. How was it developed?
I partnered with INKids Education based on their exceptional design of children’s apps. The first version took about 6 months to produce, and it has been constantly updated since its release with even more enhancements planned.
Who was the app tested on?
My partners and I put it through rigorous testing with each version update. I brought it into my classroom at school and was able to get a feel for how to integrate its use into an overall lesson as a way to introduce new vocabulary, review previously taught material, or as reward for good behavior.
How did you finance the production costs?
I used my savings anticipating it would be an exceptionally easy ROI, but was very wrong.
Once the app is launched on the iTunes store – then what?
We were fortunate that Apple has featured our app on two occasions, which helped us get the traction we needed to enhance the app. Marketing has been an essential component to the success of Futaba. I’ve been to the US multiple times to discuss the app at education conferences.
What advice do you have for anyone else that may be eager to develop their own apps?
To find out, please come to my talk at The Blarney Stone Shinsaibashi, on Oct 23 (Wed, 7:30pm) (register here) where I’ll be discussing more about my experience creating Futaba and other apps. Basically, app development is costly, and there is no guarantee that you’ll make your money back. If you have an idea make certain it hasn’t been done before. If you don’t get a coveted feature from Apple, then you have to devote substantial time and resources to marketing.