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App developer aims at e-learning market

By Cindy Atoji Keene
With more than half a million iPhone apps, 140,000-plus iPad apps, and the Android market quickly escalating, the market for mobile development appears to be flooded. The co-founder of KidsandBeyond, Lexington-based Kannankote Sriram, has joined the ranks of literally hundreds of thousands of hopeful app developers. A successful start-up entrepreneur, Sriram is aiming at the e-learning niche, believing that an opportunity exists in diaspora networks, such as Indian and Chinese migrants who are raising a new digital generation of multicultural kids. Since the company’s founding 10 months ago, Sriram has worked with a development team to create 10 different apps, releasing one app about every 1-3 months.

With an already inexhaustible list of apps on the market – from the practical (bar code scanning, restaurant finder, travel information) to the weird (voodoo spell maker, virtual fart machine) – iPhone projects start with a salable idea, with developers hoping for a winning title. KidsandBeyond’s latest release, “Viewpoints: The Blue Jackal and the Lion,” is based on a classic Indian folktale, featuring a Jackal who fools the forest animals into crowning him king. “An app has to have some uniqueness in terms of what it brings to the table, whether functionality or features. This app allows users to explore multiple perspectives of the same story in a fun and interactive manner,” said Sriram, who said that after an app is built and tested, it can be submitted to Apple for approval. “At the end of the day, anyone can build an app. There is no secret or magic to what we are doing. The trick is to make something usable to bring to market.”

Q: What makes an app stand out?
A: It’s very difficult, I tell you. If you have a brand like Bernstein Bears or Curious George, it makes it easier. If not, it’s a great challenge to differentiate yourself. Social networking, tweeting, Facebook, blogs, app reviews– all of these things you have to try, and unfortunately, there is no one way to do it. You try everything and hope for the best.

Q: What is the app development process?
A: It takes anywhere from 6-10 weeks to get a good app out. For our e-book Marcel, a fanciful story about a bookworm who travels through the changing seasons, the idea, script and illustrations originated with the author. The drawings were scanned and converted into digital items. The development team worked to build the storyboard, and to envision how many pages the app would be; the number of illustrations on each page, and sound effects. The animators got involved and built a wire frame and created the elements, and the programming team put together the interactivity.

Q: How is an app tested?
A: Typically our apps go through eight or nine iterations to make sure elements are aligned, words are synched with the illustration, and the application is stable and doesn’t crash. If you want a character in the story to be talking, the text and character’s lips have to synch. Even if you merely say a word in a different way, animation changes and it has to be redone. When all feel it’s ready to be released, it’s submitted to the iTunes marketplace after paying the initial $99 fee to join the iPhone Developer Program. It takes 5-10 days to approve the app.

Q: What are the tricky parts of developing an app?
A: The heavier the size of your application, the more likely it’s going to have difficulty in terms of stability. With a lot of animation, sound and interactivity, you need to figure out how to optimize these and use the memory efficiently. The second issue is the amount of interactivity: how do you guide the child to what is interactive and what is not. If everything is flashing, then there’s no opportunity for the child to discovery any clues by himself.

Q: How did you create Clever Cloud and other interactive characters?
A: Since there are a lot of copyright issues, objects need to have a unique look as you bring characters alive and animate them. We have a style, a colorful umph, that objects need to conform to, whether it’s an elephant or crow, although at the end of the day, all moneys or oranges probably look alike.

Q: Do you have kids test your app?
A: We have many testers, but on a more intimate level, I babysit my niece’s daughters quite a bit; one is 16 months old, and the other is three. I like to see what their reaction is – do they get bored, and walk away? Kids don’t look at error messages but they do view icons and smiley faces. We are constantly looking at how to make improvements in terms of usability.

Q: Personally, what is your favorite app?
A: Whenever I travel and there is a network connection, I play Words with Friends.

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