Yesterday CS3216 just had a seminar about the latest-and-greatest Facebook/iPad applications. Let's review one application that I was asked to review: Pekay's Little Author.
What I get from the presentation
Pekay's Little Author makes it very easy for children and adults to create your own storybook. It's available as desktop, Facebook, and iPad app. As the features suggest, the target market of the app is primarily children and the app has done a good job for it. The interface is intuitive and fun enough for children to use, the base characters and sprite libraries are cute. (Perhaps not so much for the advanced control buttons (the play, next button etc. look complicated and rather out-of-place), but I guess those controls are made for the older children and/or the parents.)
There seems to be a feature parity between the Facebook and the iPad app, the Facebook app being free and having more social elements and the iPad app being costly (10 USD!) and having no social elements. It would be good if they actually try to close this gap between the different versions of the app. The presentation did not cover the original desktop app though.
Another important note mentioned in the Q&A session is the importance of platform analysis before jumping in to development. The reason why the Facebook app has not been so popular is supposedly because the targeted children do not actually have a Facebook account yet, or do not yet see a benefit of socializing in Facebook (I presume that their social circle is still very very small and geographically centred around a few km of where they live). iPad is different however -- big screen and touch interface are very natural. Users do not even need to be able to read to use the app in iPad!
So... what is this app actually about?
Targeting children actually poses the app in a unique position because children do not really have money -- their parents do. Thankfully these days, children creating storybooks is seen as a good thing so parents won't hesitate to spend a few dollars for such a desirable activity. Plus as Prof Ben has said, having a distraction for your children is priceless :) To further strengthen the image of "storywriting is a nice, hippy, and smart activity for your children", they even had workshops and associate themselves with museums. Museums! Who could think that those boring repositories of physical stuff can become an ingenious marketing campaign?
Furthermore, being made in Japan, the app tells us that people outside the U.S. can also make a difference. You don't have to have boatloads of connections, money shower from VCs, or an English-speaking country. Of course the author of PeKay's Little Author definitely knows interesting people, has money, and Japan is not exactly anti-English, But in these frontiers, Silicon Valley is an order of magnitude much more welcoming and friendly environment.
Sidetrack: how presentation works in School of Computing
Coming from science-medicine kind of background, I find the overall presentation session very interesting. The presentation style is definitely not of the same kind as what I am used to.
- People don't seem to care about how numbers and statements come out and they just take it on face value. An example is the statement "the iPad version is less popular than the iPhone version". Who said that? What is the evidence? Do you consider the confounding factors eg. the fact that there are more iPhones vs. iPads in the world? If it is indeed less popular, does it matter (i.e. does the app have to be popular or are other indicators more important)?
- People actually throw out new ideas during the Q&A session! :)
- People don't seem to really care about dress code! :)
- Some of us seriously need to learn to imagine being in someone else's shoes. Emphatize with customers (end users). Customers don't care whether you develop the app with HTML5 -- they care whether the app is available in more devices, crashes less, and becomes more awesome. Customers don't care whether setup is easy for you -- they care whether it is easy for them! (Of course being in a CS course, we can be technical, but we must not forget the end users as well.)