It's been a busy year in AppLand and at Smart Apps for Kids. I've downloaded hundreds of apps, reviewed 73, beta tested a dozen or more, attended ios trade shows and conferences and worked with SAFK reviewers to stay current on all the top new apps. After logging countless hours around the web, these are what I have identified as the biggest trends in app use and development over the past year. It will be interesting to see what the next wave brings.
Accessibility. The ios 6 announcement had my developer friends all excited about Passbook and 3D Maps. For special needs parents, it was all about locking in a single app. iPads in general have done wonders for opening new avenues of learning for those with disabilities. Apps that make an effort to accommodate those with differing abilities whether by having verbal directions instead or written, offering high contrast backgrounds, narrating an ebook with ASL or making switch accessibility possible deserve special consideration.
Use of public domain books. One of our recent GFAOTD featured a reworking of a book written over 100 years ago. Using classic literature in book apps is win win. Developers get high quality content with instant name recognition without paying Disney or Dr. Seuss expensive licensing fees. Young readers get to discover important authors in a modern context with which they are familiar. Reading Poe’s The Tell Tale Heart with a creepy soundtrack and stylized manga drawings is a really cool experience I wish I’d had in high school. Some of these apps even have the complete original text, so they can be read for school.
Lite versions and in app purchases. Before spending $10 or more on an app, I really like to be sure it meets my expectations. Sometimes the content is there but the navigation is awkward. An ebook narrator’s voice may grate. Reviews can offer some assurance, but in the end nothing beats seeing if an app lives up to its hype yourself. Lite versions that offer the chance to try before you buy are great marketing features. As for in apps, I too viewed them with contempt. After getting some, however, I discovered in most cases they’re just Lite versions with links to the full version that don’t require searching in the app store.
Social media, email and iCloud integration. External links are both good and bad. My boys are 10 so I love having the ability to post to Facebook directly from within an app. After Dean makes a particularly good sentence with his AAC app, I do a status update. Many of his old teachers and therapists are Facebook friends so they get a chance to see his progress. When he completes spelling homework using an app, I email the results directly to his teacher. Bypassing the need to cut and paste saves a lot of time. Even better than sending app data out, is the ability in many apps to pull content in from Dropbox or Evernote.
Off Label Use. In one of my reviews I wrote, “The best apps are those you make your own.” I like nothing better than finding an unexpected use for an app. AAC hasn’t much given my child a voice, but it has definitely helped him learn to read. Picture based AAC apps are like having 10,000 flashcards at one’s disposal. A visual scene display app whose stated purpose is for speech and language became the foundation for my virtual docent led museum tour. A spelling app that allows for customized word lists with recorded sentences can just as easily be a vocabulary quiz for older students needing to learn definitions. Many parents have ideas for the perfect app, but they lack the programming skill and capital to create it. The ability to customize an existing app to make their brainchild a reality is the perfect solution.
Therapy in a box. My son received back to back speech therapy and OT every Monday for 3 years. It took a lot of time and cost a lot of money. With $20 co-pays now $50, thirty visits covered now 20, and meeting a deductible required to enter the parking structure of the rehab center, something has to change. The ability to do home therapy is huge. Our SLP does an articulation evaluation, gives me a run down of what sounds need work and which Dean is ready to practice and voila - therapy in a box. Quality apps that use ABA are plentiful as are those that work on motor skills and handwriting. Apps aren’t quite ready to replace professionals, but they can cut costs substantially and offer real therapeutic benefit when used properly.
Sharing content. I’m not much of a do it yourselfer so any opportunity to borrow content and make use of somebody else’s sweat equity is a big plus. Whether it’s online, emailed, or amazingly slid from iPad to iPad, having access to other user’s ideas, social stories and AAC boards adds tremendous value to an app. Teachers and parents who homeschool especially can benefit from searchable banks of lessons. One of the drawbacks of technology and the reason schools haven’t yet wholeheartedly adopted iPads is the time involved in learning to use them. Having a forum for sharing knowledge and lessons will go a long way to changing that perception.
Augmented Reality. AR is a live, direct or indirect, view of a physical, real world environment whose elements are augmented by computer generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data. Okay, so what exactly is it? Suppose you are sitting on the patio of George Clooney’s Lake Como Estate enjoying an espresso and the view. You spot a mountain range in the distance and wonder what it’s named. Point your iPhone at it, snap a photo and, through the wonders of GPS, an on board compass and NASA terrain maps, the name of the peaks and their elevation will magically appear on your screen. If you turn and snap a shot of your host lord knows what secrets might be uncovered. This technology is slowly working its way away from maps and into gaming and other fun things for kids.
Developers responding to feedback. More and more developers are turning to social media to promote their apps. Reaching out to a target audience becomes a two-way street as those interested in the app have an easy way to directly offer suggestions for updates, changes, new features and ideas for future apps. I appreciate developers, especially those in the special needs market, that want to meet the needs of as many children as possible and are willing to listen to parents, teachers and therapists.
Art. David Hockney has two paintings hanging at the Metropolitan Museum in NY, several at the Tate in London and headlined the Cultural Olympiad. He also had an entire show devoted to his iPad art. I love that a real artist whose paintings sell for millions “paints” on the iPad. My iPad’s background is a digital Hockney. His stuff is extraordinary but it just goes to show the full creative potential anyone can unleash with the right apps.