Don’t Forget this Critical Detail When Developing Kids Apps

Kids on a sofa playing educational games on a tablet

The missing piece

There are a lot of factors that go into designing a successful youth-oriented game. From fun and friendly characters to engaging gameplay that’s easy to get into, many developers have hit the right combination and kids are playing more mobile games than ever.  

There is one key factor most developers ignore time and time again. It’s something that directly impacts downloads, app reviews, and customer support requests. Countless apps out in the wild should have been a hit with kids, but this significant oversight prevented their deserved adoption.

Bottom tier

“When I upgrade my iPad, the old one goes straight to the kids,” says Edward Pitts, parent of three, “It’s not the fastest, but it’s enough for them to play games and watch YouTube.”

While the number of children over 5 years of age that have their own mobile device is growing (upwards of 45% by some studies), they aren’t exactly getting the latest and greatest hardware.

“They are getting hand-me-downs and budget no-name android devices,” says Matt Conheady, Lead Producer at Workinman Interactive. “We also see a lot of Kindles,” says Matt, “which are often newer models, but are intentionally less powerful so that everyone can afford one.”

Workinman’s own game analytics data shows that devices as “old” as the iPad 2 still account for a huge portion of players of their games and toy companion apps—up to 26%. Not bad for a device from 2011.

“We don’t see the iPhone X, iPad Pro, or Galaxy Note show up in the data. Kids just don’t own them,” Matt says, “and parents rarely hand these pricey devices over to small slippery fingers for too long.”

Heavy optimization without compromise

Workinman Interactive’s strategy has always been to account for low end-devices, making sure that even those with a entry level Kindle can play their games with no major compromises.

“We’ve put a lot of R&D into our optimization strategies,” says D.J. Heberle Workinman’s Director of Connected Products. “We utilize technology that compresses assets while retaining a high-end quality. We also use programmatic animations, where fully animated assets are not necessary, and flexible particle systems that can adapt to the power of the device.”

Over 90% of the apps and games that leave the Workinman’s New York-based studio are optimized to run on devices as old as the iPhone 4 and iPad 2.

Free space is a blocker to adoption

That optimization pays off in more ways than one. Smaller apps mean more potential users.

“Not only are those legacy devices lacking in power and RAM, they used to ship with 8 gigs of space, maybe 16, and most of that has been devoured by OS updates and other installs,” Matt says. “If a child wants to download a 300mb app, and the device doesn’t have the space, it won’t let them.”

Amazon’s best-selling Kindle Kids Edition and other tablets work with the FreeTime Unlimited app streaming platform.  The platform allows children to play thousands of apps in a walled garden without having to download and install the app.  This architecture saves significant on-device space and allows kids access to great content on a less expensive device. Unfortunately,  apps that are not optimized for streaming can bog down and are often unstable and barely playable.

“When it comes to FreeTime Unlimited, most developers are caught off guard,” D.J. says, “They just port over their existing iOS or Android app and don’t optimize for cloud delivery.”

Augmented reality: Real limitations

Those awesome dancing hot dogs, realistic dinosaurs, and wayfinding dancing dudes are what Apple and Google are banking on as the future of apps. Their ARKit and ARCore technologies allow for developers to makes AR apps with ease, and we are seeing a massive amount of youth-oriented apps using these technologies hitting the market now. There’s a huge problem. Apple’s ARKit supports only iPhone 6s and iPad 2017 and above while Google’s ARCore support only the latest phones (and no tablets as of June 2018). While these apps to attract a lot of media, it’s going to be several years before devices such as the the Google Pixel 2 trickles down into the kids hands.

New engine technology could be a boom for kids apps

Workinman Interactive has been working alongside Unity Technologies to provide games using  the new Unity Engine’s Entity Component System (ECS) to provide even smaller, faster, and lighter games—which could be revolutionary for youth-oriented games and apps. The new technology allows for the development of games requiring only the core components to make the game run. The result is a game with a tiny footprint, that launches quickly, and with superb performance. It’s ideal for those low-end kids’ devices, and can provide instant gratification when they need a new game to focus on when on the road.

Workinman Interactive – Awesome games for all devices

For over a decade, Workinman Interactive has been the choice game design and development service provider for the world’s leading brands. We have brought playable versions of SpongeBob into millions of households, launch many Disney character’s gaming universes, and helped teach literacy, comprehension, finance, and math with our educational games, all on the broadest range of affordable and performing devices technology allows.  Read more about Workinman’s Game Design and Development Services.

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