Blogger Spotlight: Apps Playground

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Apps Playground is a phenomenal children’s app review site, headed by one of the most esteemed journalists in the industry, Stuart Dredge. We are very excited to pick his brain about predictions for the app industry, running an app review site, and being a parent in the technology age for the next edition of the Oceanhouse Media Blogger Spotlight!

Oceanhouse Media (OM): When did you first launch Apps Playground? How has it evolved since the beginning?

Stuart Dredge (SD): My wife Alice and I launched it in September 2010 as a side-project from our regular jobs (both freelance: I’m a journalist and she’s a market researcher).

The motivation was partly because we wanted to work on something together, and partly because we had two small children – three and one at the time – and had spotted a growing number of apps for kids on smartphones and tablets.

I bodged together a WordPress theme and away we went! But I’d say it became a serious thing at the start of 2013, when we started devoting more time to writing several posts a day. Later that year, we got it professionally redesigned.

We’re currently attracting 60,000+ unique visitors a month, and earlier this year launched our first e-book on Apple’s iBooks store, as an experimental spin-off.

OM: Do you remember the first app you ever downloaded?

SD: In my day job I’ve been writing about phones and apps for a LONG time – back in the days of downloadable Java games on the first colour-screen mobiles in the early 2000s. I think it might have been Jamdat Bowling.

In modern apps times – if you think of the launch of Apple’s App Store as the start of that – I was covering that launch for a mobile games site in 2008, so it would have been Super Monkey Ball most likely.

OM: Which apps would you say are essential for every parent to have on their iPad?

SD: Weirdly, I find it hard to answer this: it’s such a personal thing based on how old your children are, what their interests are, and which apps they respond to. It’s difficult to say ‘every parent and child will love THIS app…’

In general terms, though, a good mix of stuff is important I think – some creative apps, some stories, some educational apps and some just for playing. We’ve tended to plonk lots of apps from all genres on our iPad and let our children figure out which ones they like best – admittedly a benefit of having access to lots of promo codes.

OM: What are your kids’ favorite storybook apps?

SD: They love the Nosy Crow fairytales, and our six year-old is currently going through a wildlife phase, so anything with animals. They’ve enjoyed the Me Books app too: the option to re-record the dialogue as a family has been particularly fun. As two young boys, they’re also delighted by anything that references bums, poo, farts and so on! But they’ll also happily follow a Dr Seuss storybook for cleaner fare…

OM: What are the most important features that you look for in children’s apps?

SD: A spark – of creativity, of design, of storytelling… Something that stands out from the crowd. As a nerdy journalist who literally does scan an RSS feed every morning of new releases in the major App Store categories, a lot of rubbish passes my eyes, but the good stuff still leaps out.

SD: For educational apps, I’m keen to see if there’s a solid basis for the learning – how is it rooted in the curriculum, who are the advisers etc. And as both journalist and parent, I’m quite sharp on checking out how in-app purchases work when they’re used: finding a game whose virtual items go up to £69.99 is always disheartening.

OM: Complete the sentence: My favorite thing about being a parent in the technology age is ____.

SD: My favourite thing about being a parent in the technology age is the flurry of creativity and experimentation going into apps – every day there are two or three new things worth further investigation.

OM: What predictions do you have for the app industry in the next year?

SD: I hope some of the talented developers we’ve been writing about find it a bit easier to make money: all too often we’ve raved about a marvellous app only to hear later that it made peanuts from sales. If there’s a prediction here, it’s that more parents will realise the merits of paying for apps, and that Apple, Google, Amazon and others will continue working hard on helping them discover the best ones.

We’re seeing an upswing of releases for Android devices in response to the growing number in parents’ (and children’s) hands. Here in the UK, for example, supermarket Tesco sold hundreds of thousands of its Hudl tablets last year, a lot of them to parents. There’s a growing audience out there for Android apps, so I think more developers will target them.

I think the concerns about in-app purchases (IAP) will gradually ease as parents get more savvy about how IAP works and set the necessary restrictions; and as developers who’ve sailed close to the wind either clean up their acts or get scuppered by a combination of app store crackdowns and bad word-of-mouth.

OM: What is your favorite thing about reviewing and writing about apps?

SD: It’s fun: I’m a geek! And it feels like it’s a useful thing to be doing for parents – not just us, obviously, but the peers that we’re inspired by.

It can sometimes feel overwhelming when there are hundreds of apps we could write about, and only so many hours of writing in the week. My least favourite thing is the awareness that we often struggle to reply to every developer who emails us, let alone write about every app we’d like to. We’re going to try to improve on both in the coming months.

OM: What app can you not live without?

SD: Impossible to pick one! Mailbox for trying to swipe my inbox into shape; Twitter for work and personal communication alike; Feedly for working my way through those RSS feeds; and Spotify for keeping the music playing throughout the day.

OM: If you were stranded on a desert island, which piece of technology would you want to have with you?

SD: An ocean-liner ;o)

Thank you so much to Stuart Dredge for participating in the Oceanhouse Media Blogger Spotlight! Stay tuned for more features from our favorite bloggers.

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