Bohumil Vosicky of Czech Republic-based 22learn talks to us about the extra challenges that go into creating educational apps for children, and why he thinks Corona is the best for doing so.
First off, can you tell me about your background as a developer? What platforms and languages do you have experience in, and which one do you prefer most?
It’s been about twenty years now since my wife and I decided to leave our careers as teachers and shifted our efforts towards the development of educational software. Initially, we primarily focused on software for primary schools and eventually succeeded in building one of the most respected companies in this field in the Czech Republic.
The thought of making educational apps for iPhone and iPad resonated within us for quite a while, but it was not until we saw how our children enjoyed playing on our iPad and how quickly they were able to improve their skills — all of this on their own initiative — that we decided to attempt to develop a few apps ourselves as well (currently, one of our new apps for toddlers is in the review process for the App Store, and another has almost been prepared for submission).
We do not have much experience with other platforms besides Windows. We developed our titles in Delphi, MS Visual Studio and for last few years we have been using mainly Adobe Flash. It is difficult to say which ones we prefer most — it really depends on the type of application you are creating. But for most multimedia educational apps designed for PC or Mac, the best choice is probably Flash. I have to admit that we planned to use Flash CS5 for mobile apps. But for the well-known reasons, we had to find an alternative. We were looking for a language which is not time-consuming to learn for an experienced Flash developer, and at the same time features a good performance and reliability. I think that Corona has more than fulfilled our expectations.
Your Math with Mathaliens app seems like it would resonate well with parents, especially since — as you mentioned — their iPads are often used by their children. Was there a challenge for you in making a game that was functionally compelling, yet still graphically attractive and accessible to such a young audience?
Making a game for children is always a rather challenging process as you need to get into the child’s mind. You have to put your knowledge aside and think what a child would do when presented with the screen. For instance, I noticed that some apps for preschool kids do not read tasks aloud — quite a problem for small children who cannot read!
I think our previous experience in educational software has made this process a bit easier for us, but still it was something entirely new to observe the ways children use the iPhone and iPad. After each step in development, we had to test the app with children to see that they are comfortable with using it. The accessibility was the key.
We are now going through similar steps when developing apps for preschool kids, though here we have to put greater emphasis on design and small animations, which the smaller children are most attracted to. We were ultimately thrilled that we were able to develop educational games even for such very young kids. I am convinced that the youngest children are the ones to benefit most from the iPhone and iPad as these devices enabled them to make use of their full potential — something they could not do up to the time because of the difficulty of using computers (primarily, the movement of the mouse). Hence, I hope that there is going to be a great development in educational apps for the youngest users.
So, how did Corona help you overcome those challenges during the making of Mathaliens?
As I mentioned before, we had no experience with developing mobile applications. When we were finding an alternative for the Apple-banned Flash CS5, I ran across your webpage. You mentioned that for a Flash developer it is easy to learn and understand the Corona framework. I must admit that I was mildly suspicious of this information at first but I am pleased to admit that I was proven wrong — we were able to develop our very first application with Corona in just a few days! We also appreciated that porting apps from Flash to Corona is quite easy and substantially lowers development costs. This is very important especially for us because, thanks to the plenty years of developing Flash educational software, we can easily port their parts to mobile apps.
Given the extra effort that goes into creating an educational game, how long of a development time did Mathaliens ultimately have?
Mathaliens is our first app for iPad/iPhone devices. Its main purpose was just to test this market and find out whether we were able to develop an application with reasonable costs which would be able to pay off. As we have many years of experience with educational software for the target age group, the development of the interface was neither too difficult nor too time consuming. We were able to develop it completely from conception to final launch in about two weeks.
The team consisted from 4 people: an educational expert, a programmer, an illustrator, and a designer. Of course, there were other people who helped with the development — for example, our children served as guinea pigs for the applications. The final version was also tested with a group of children from our partner’s school, and we were very grateful for their suggestions. They really helped to improve the final version before its launch.
Did Corona help at all with curtailing that overall development time?
Definitely. It was easy to learn and it was easy to use. It would have taken much more time with Objective-C and I am quite sure that it would also have taken much longer to master Objective-C than Corona for a typical Flash developer.
Will you continue to use Corona to create more of your educational games in the future?
Certainly. It is a great product. For educational apps in particular, it is the best tool available.
And we’ll be looking forward to your next creation. Thanks for your time, Bohumil!