Creating a Successful Children's Book App

Cat in the HatChildren's book apps are one of the fastest growing book categories on the App Store. A large number of titles are available that educate and entertain kids. This growth trend is sure to continue as the number of children using mobile devices increases. A successful children's book app often has specific requirements that differ from those of other apps. As a developer, outlining the necessary features in advance is important in creating a winning app.

Setting the stage

The criteria you establish for building a children's book app must be set in place well before the development process begins. Ask yourself, what is the main purpose of the app? Will it promote literacy, or perhaps teach puzzle solving, or maybe simply entertain the reader with its story or games? Next, determine the targeted age group. A toddler's requirements are vastly different from that of an older reader. Functionality can vary drastically for different age groups. Answering these initial questions first and others like them will help you determine the level of interactivity required. Even more importantly, it may help you to eliminate unnecessary "bells and whistles", helping to keep production costs down.

One of the keys to a successful children's book app is the ability for the child to use it by his or herself. The child should be able to touch the screen and easily turn the pages with simple navigation tools. By allowing the child the option to read the story, or have it read to them, they are able to explore the pages and have meaningful interactions with the pictures. All that being said, simplicity is critical in order to create a friendly, positive user experience. One question to keep asking over and over is whether you're spending your time and money on the right features. Have clear objectives and follow through with your plans at each phase of development. Be aware that it is as important to decide what should not go into your app as well as what should. Additionally, it's worthwhile to take a look at your competition to see how your app's features will stack up when compared to others on the charts.

Also critical, before development begins, is to determine if the app will meet the App Store Review Guidelines ( If you are unsure, check out the guidelines before finalizing your strategy for the app to ensure that your approval process will go smoothly. This avoids having to go back and redesign features or having your app rejected all together.

Tools necessary to get the job done

Once you've outlined what the app will and will not include, the focus now is on ensuring you have the proper software and development tools in place to get the job done. Can an existing engine be used as the backbone for building your platform? If you need to build a unique app engine from scratch, make sure it's developed in a way so that it can be used for future apps, instead of being a "one-off." Establishing the foundational technology is time well spent, while building a unique engine for each app is an expensive proposition.

Apps are software and require computer knowledge much more than traditional book publishing expertise. Look for experts in C++/Objective-C programming and, in particular, engineers who also have an understanding of graphic design. Heavily illustrated content is ideal for children's book apps, so don't underestimate the need to include experienced graphic designers as part of your team who can complement the software engineers.

Children love it when things are highly interactive. Once you've established the degree of interactivity you want to shoot for, you'll need to line up a team of graphic designers, technical artists, music composers, sound designers and professional voice actors. The danger with so many people involved is to let an app spiral out of control and get over-designed. Now, more than ever, you must stick to your initial design constraints. Iterate as needed, but be very aware of potential "feature creep" where "Wouldn't it be cool if..." features get added haphazardly. As a rule of thumb, a single app should not take more than eight weeks to develop once the necessary engine, pipeline and tools are in place. Ship a high-quality app with a limited scope and see what customers would like added to it. Add those items later with app updates.

Developing a universal app

Universal apps are important for the children's market. Purchase the app once for your iPhone, and it will work free of charge on your other iOS devices (a big plus for parents). Therefore, it's important to look at your iPhone app as simply the starting point. Always keep in mind how and when you will adapt it for the iPad. There are already well over 15 million iPad users and that number is sure to grow substantially with the recent release of the iPad 2.

Once you develop a book engine that encompasses the design challenges of displaying to the 3.5-inch screen of an iPhone, it will be easier to adapt the app for the iPad and even for Android. As other devices are introduced in the ever-growing app marketplace, the effort spent on developing your initial iPhone app engine will give you an advantage when porting to new platforms.

Apple's Top 10 Book Apps for 2010

iPhone: Books

Free Books - 23469 classics to go (free,

Free Audiobooks - 2,947 classic audiobooks…($1.99,

Dr. Seuss's ABC ($3.99,

Audiobooks Premium ($0.99,

The Holy Bible King James Version ($0.99,

True Ghost Stories From Around the World ($0.99,

The Cat in the Hat ($3.99,

3D Classic Literature ($0.99,

Classics ($2.99,

Freakish Animals ($0.99,

iPad: Books

The Elements ($13.99,

The Cat in the Hat ($3.99,

How to Train Your Dragon ($0.99,

Pocket God Comics ($0.99,

Green Eggs and Ham ($3.99,

Dr. Seuss's ABC ($3.99,

The Lorax ($4.99,

One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish ($3.99,

Winnie the Pooh Puzzle Book ($0.99,

Jack and the Beanstalk ($0.99,

The long-term success of the app

Once your app is available on the App Store, your work does not end. Some would say that it is just beginning. The process of marketing an app can often be as much work as building it in the first place. Apps are living entities that must be updated and supported. Expect to provide users with three to four updates a year. Notify customers when new content or other new apps are available.

Being one of Apple's "Featured Apps" will do wonders in reaching the top of the sales charts. It's an endorsement that goes a long way in promoting your app. If you release an exceptional app with unique features that is getting strong initial reviews, there is a good chance that someone from Cupertino will contact you for feature placement.

Positive customer reviews and four-star or five-star ratings are another critical part of an app's success and longevity. You also need to price the app to get noticed on the charts. Apps are extremely price sensitive and low prices are encouraged in the App Store.

Finally, a well-rounded marketing program is key to your app's success. Send out a press release and offer promo codes to reviewers. Garnering product reviews is important. Not only do potential customers read them, they can be used as an endorsement on your website. Also, keep customers informed of new developments via Facebook and Twitter updates. Customer feedback is a useful source of ideas for enhancements to your app. Many added options in future versions of an app can result from listening to what users are saying.

While creating a children's book app is multi-faceted and challenging, it's also quite rewarding as you witness the fun kids have enjoying the final product.

July-August 2011
Creating Apps
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