One of the less remarked upon features of iOS 7, the new mobile operating system for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch, has been the arrival—at last!—of a Kids category for the App Store.
But it was very big news for me, and everyone I work with at Nosy Crow, because a Kids category is something for which we've been hoping for quite some time.
Nosy Crow released its first app—The Three Little Pigs—in February 2011, and at the time, the mere fact of its existence was news in itself. Apps were still (there's a perfectly good argument to be made that they are still, but I'm not going to make it today) a largely unknown quantity for publishers, who often didn't know if or how they could be monetised, what their potential was for existing and new content, and even, in many cases, how they should be made.
Today the competitive landscape is very different. We released an app last week—our eleventh, Axel Scheffler's Flip Flap Farm—and in many ways it was no more newsworthy an event than "publisher publishes book" (which isn't to say it's not a great product). Releasing an app is now longer a remarkable event in and of itself in the way that it was two and a half years ago.
And that means several things for us. Firstly, and most importantly, that in order for our apps to continue attracting attention, they have to be absolutely extraordinary. With every new app, we try and push ourselves even further: to be more innovative with content and interactivity, and to explore the boundaries of what a reading experience for children can be.
In the case of Axel Scheffler's Flip Flap Farm, which is a very small, simple app (and only 69p on the App Store), this innovation centred around finding imaginative and cost-effective ways of re-deploying content (we've also published a split-page, spiral-bound board book of the same name this month), and expressing the concept behind the app in a way that was as user-friendly and elegant in its design as possible.
But even after you've made an app that's groundbreaking and incredible, consumers will still have to find it, in a marketplace that I have heard described as "the world's largest shop, with the world's smallest shop window". And that's where the new Kids' Category comes in. I promised myself that I wouldn't use the word "discoverability" in this post, but it's hard enough to carve out a presence on the App Store without scattering your content across three or four different areas, and previously that's what we've had to do: our apps are split across the Books, Education and Games categories of the store. Now they're also collected in a single place, and as I said in this Guardian piece last week, I expect the Kids' Category to impact us in several ways.
It makes our content easier to find for parents – both serendipitously (the Kids' Category is a place that actually makes sense for parents to browse) and for those who are specifically looking for our apps. There's now a more nuanced set of age bands, which will, I expect, be particularly useful for teachers who'd like to use apps in class but don't know whether something's age-appropriate. Apps featured in the new category must include a parental gating mechanism to prevent children from inadvertently making in-app purchases and running up huge credit card bills—something we've had in place for some time already – and hopefully this will mean general consumer confidence in kids apps improves. And there's dedicated promotional space for kids apps on the App Store, where previously they've struggled for attention.
Already this final point has proven to be of dramatic importance for us. When the Kids Category launched last week, we were absolutely overwhelmed by the level of support Apple had shown us. We're a tiny, independent British publisher, with fewer than a dozen apps to our name, and yet in a featured list on the App Store of the 38 Best Interactive Kids Stories, 10 of them were by Nosy Crow (our eleventh app isn't a story). We were also one of the very, very few developers on the Store (the others were the likes of Disney) to be promoted with a branded page dedicated exclusively to our apps, linked to from the front page. Axel Scheffler's Flip Flap Farm received a great boost on its launch by being featured as a Book App of the Week in the US Store, and we also received promotional spots in a dozen other places.
And even though it's perhaps too early to say what the long-term effect of this will be, we've already seen a big jump in sales across our whole app catalogue. In our experience, the two most significant factors in achieving high numbers of app downloads for paid apps are—by a wide margin—mainstream press coverage and support from Apple.
So that's why we're so positive about the Kids category. It's nice to feel that we're punching above our weight, and that our apps are receiving the recognition they deserve, but it's even more encouraging to think that the entire market for Kids apps has just received a shot in the arm.
Tom Bonnick is digital project and marketing manager at Nosy Crow