Thursday, 27 January 2011

Reviews and Reviewers

We got a wonderful review at applicable2u (reviews of educational apps for kids) for our Christmas story - Lizzie and the Christmas Tree - check it out here. We are very pleased that Andrea and her little critic Logan did enjoy our story and appreciated our 'read-only' option we chose for our children books.

Let me give few thoughts here on reviewers and critics then. As everybody seems to take a plunge into apps development, before long there sprang out tons of reviewing websites/blogs too, as we say like mushrooms after the rain:) But not all of them are the same, not all of them express their opinion, not all of them are worth your time. The furthest are game review pages because games are such a huge segment and they been here for a long time so people had time to create their own taste and establish respected review sites.

But let's talk about children apps - educational apps, book apps, games and activities and respective review sites. It is a rapidly growing part of the appstore but still tiny and quite new. So even if people had some criteria in real life, in a business where you struggle every day for 'visits', 'likes' and 'retweets' it is not easy to say what you like and eventually what you don't like. Basically, there are three types of sites - paid ones (which the user=parent will not necessarily notice, he would have to dig a bit on the site) and they say nice things about anything and anyone because they got money to do so. Then there are blogs who don't take money but in pursuit of visit numbers and good relations with their providers, app developers, they like everything (or is it just the American 'everything's great' mask again?). The better part of these talk about and publish only apps they like, kind of recommendations from a trusted source, which is fine.

And then there should be reviewers, critics, who say hey, this is really outstanding, this is fine, this is not that good and don't waste your time and money on this one. Expressing their honest personal feelings and professional opinions, helping the public to accept good industry standards, helping the developers to create better apps for their users. And as you may expect, these are rare and coming later on and in difficult ways. So that's why I value a honest page like applicable2u (and please don't take me wrong, it is not because they talked nicely about our book) where they buy, try, see and say how they liked their app or what they would change about it. Because parents, be aware - there are apps of very diverse and uneven aesthetic, educational, entertaining and literal levels:)

Monday, 17 January 2011

January is here...

This year we have started with a story for smaller kids called 'I Think I'm a Cow'It is a cute story about a confused goat kid who is not sure about his own kind. Beautiful colorful illustrations by Romanian artist Anca Delia Budeanu make it a perfect treat for little kids who like to show and tell farm animals and who love happy endings.

The next in a row is another story about the Sip'n'Cup duo by J. Adeleke and then we'll have our first real princess story called 'A Perfect Princess' by Jo S. Kittinger (see pic), the pictures are really adorable. Starting from January we changed the frequency of our publishing - there will be only one story a month, and instead we'll be offering more standalone book apps for people who prefer a one-time buy.

Also, there are for you two more apps in development - a classic jig-saw puzzle with cute children illustrations (see pic) and then we have a toddler's game with a pinch of imagination going on. So it looks like a busy year so keep expecting and we'll try to keep delivering. Cheers:)

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Monkey Jack-in-the-Box

Lately, I have a slight issue with the term 'educational' toy or game. Everything seems to have to be educational to address the parents and thus to get better sales numbers. But I say every toy and game is educational to some extent, even if your kid plays with bottle caps, cars or a rug doll, a wooden spoon or a ludo board game set. Some toys have (or are supposed to have) a direct educational impact on you kid - especially when they involve numbers, colors, letters or shapes. That's what people hear and that's what they therefore want for their kids and what' they believe will help their kids in school later on. I am not sure that the kids care and that the educational effect is always achieved.

So being brainwashed by this media propaganda, I was picking toys for my boys at the toy store for this year's Christmas. And I came across this little sweet thing - a sock monkey in the box. You play a funny street organ like tune by turning the handle on the side of the box and in few seconds a monkey pops out at you. Hmm, nice little nonsense, I thought, but then I couldn't resist and I bought the thing. I was wondering if it was not a waste of money, no educational addition for my kids, no real use for this little trinket, no shapes, no first words, no nothing, just a nice melody and then SURPRISE!

So when we found this little box under our Christmas tree I was kind of curious to see how will everybody react. And I was happy to find out that not only the kids but also all the adults wanted to try it, to turn the handle themselves and see what happens. Everybody grabbed the box and went round and round and then HOP! smile on their face, and again and again. So the old little trick of organ grinders with a real monkey on their shoulder still works. Little of magic and some fun. Not everything needs to educate, entertain is good enough.

Friday, 10 December 2010

December Summary

If November was a busy month,  December proves to be a crazy month, you probably noticed too. So just a short sumary of what is going on at Okenko Books.

We published two more stories within our subscription - very popular Lizzie and The Phone Call (S. Canzoneri, J. Tiller) and our first animal story Pug and Pig (J. Linden, L. Latti). You can read more at our books section of our website. We are happy that everything is going so well, we reached more then 2.5k downloads on Androids and nearly 1k on iTunes. Also as of two days ago, the Okenko Books subscription is available to Windows 7 phones users.

We incorporated a gift option into our website, so now you can easily give our subscription to anyone dear to you, it's easy as 1,2,3, you just register with your email and pay and then we'll send a gift note and an activation code to the happy person's email. See our front page for the quick link. Also, over Christmas holidays we are going to re-invent our website, expect more friendly, more structured website with new, cool design.

Finally, we launched a series of standalone ebook apps based on the most popular stories from our subscription. You can see our first swallow, Andie Plays pretend, on iTunes, three more apps are with Apple waiting for approval so they are coming out shortly, hopefully before Christmas. We call these eBooks for iPhone/iPad because they stay true to the original media and they look and are like books, just pictures and texts, and they are meant to be read. Hope you will enjoy these!

And last not least, we are going to host in next few weeks 4 members of our big family from all over the world for holidays so you can imagine how excited (though slightly tense:) we are about the upcoming holidays. Hope you will spend them among your dear ones too and that Okenko Books will help you to spend some quality winter evenings with a good children picture book.

Next time you can expect a Christmas story, Lizzie and The Christmas Tree (S. Canzoneri, J. Tiller) and in the beginning of the new year we have a farm story for our little ones I Think I'm a Cow (C. Montgomery, S. Anca).

Thursday, 18 November 2010

MomsWithApps 1year Anniversary

In the beginning there was a gut feeling, four women with iphone apps found themselves lost in the jungle of 200 thousand of other apps. Gut feeling that they should do something to make their apps more visible, to mobilize other people's energy and in a joint effort make their outcry - Hey, look we've got few nice apps for kids here. So they founded Moms With Apps Google group, started to utilize social media to attract more helpers, more members and the snow ball started to roll. It rolled and rolled (we were caught on in shortly after the launch), it went from kids apps to family friendly apps, it went form Moms to Moms, Dads, Uncles etc and it went from husband-wife teams to family friendly corporations. The idea is to attract attention to the apps we are making with our kids/families on our mind.

Now I'll start to be slightly controversial because I am not an American and I don't feel that bound with political correctness and equalities of so many kinds. The change came when dads become involved - they brought their left hemispheres into the process. So now we have a forum for sharing information with million threads with hints and tips of all kind, there is a written program of the group, we will have a badge for distinguishing better apps from the worse ones, the group is intertwined with the educational crowd, with critics and reviewers etc. I am just saying that's how this world works, the men take always over, for better or worse. And I like to watch it, women with gut feelings cooperating with men on a hunt for success.

The four women were Lorraine from My Little Suitcase, Lynette from PicPocket Books and Jill&Alesha from MomMaps, and their first blog post was this. Now the Momswithapps forum can be found here and is open for anybody. I am really thankful that I met this inspiring group of people because they helped us to gain confidence, they made us feel a part of a community not just standing helplessly alone in the middle of the app  storm and whenever we have a technical issue, there is an answer for that on the forum. So, having the thanks giving season around the corner, I am saying THANK YOU, MOMS WITH APPS.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

November is a busy month so far

 On Friday, we published another book for our subscribers called Kids Riddles and it is a selection of classic riddles with colorful pictures as answers. It is not exactly a book to read from the beginning to the end but we hope that in this rainy, fall weather it provides some quality entertainment for families cuddled on a sofa and spending time together.

Within the last two weeks, I attended two social meetings in the area. The first one was an official announcement of NookColor by Barnes&Nobles in San Bruno (they have their development labs down in Palo Alto). It will be really interesting to watch how their Nook will catch up on with other tablet readers and we are especially interested in their development program which will enable indie developers to sell their 'books' for that device. And it seems they really mean it with children content thanks to the hi-tech full color screen.

The second one was a meetup of Silicon Valley Kids Apps developers in San Carlos, held by Creativity Inc. It was a small event with Lorraine from MomsWithApps, which we are a part of, as a main speaker, followed by 5 people demo-ing their apps in various stages of done-ness. It would be interesting to take their place next time and show Okenko Books to this app-obsessed crowd to see what are their experienced comments.

As you probably noticed, Okenko Books also entered the big iDevices market and is now available on iTunes at for iPhone/iTouch/iPad users. We are very happy that we made it happen before the holiday season comes and we welcome iTunes customers among our subscribers. We released a PR on PrMac (here) on last Tuesday about this and it was followed by a number of news about Okenko on different channels. We also got a very nice review at and few more reviews are in progress.

Speaking of a holiday season, our developers are working on implementing a gift option into our website, so that relatives can easily buy a subscription for their grand kids, nieces and nephews just by paying for their books. The administration of the gift will be facilitated using a promocode which will be sent to the email address of kids' parents or carers. And regarding Thanksgiving, my next post will be a thanks giving one about the already mentioned supportive group of family friendly apps developers called Moms With Apps. Till then all the best, Jitka

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

First not-happy-ending experience

So it just has happened. Till now I was pleasantly surprised by how smoothly and seamlessly every hire and outsource went, everybody communicated, was on time and the overall impression was more than good. Recently I contacted The Lamb Studios / India for our next picture book called 'Falling Leaves and the Foolish Brothers'. They replied to one of my public job hires on Elance earlier this year and I didn't use them that time but remembered them and when a story which seemed to resonated with one of their styles, I got in touch with them.

In the beginning everything went smoothly, they were happy to do the job, they preferred to be paid afterward via PayPal skipping the Elance part (10% rebate), and they sent first sketches quickly and even a color study, I really liked their work. They had slightly longer response than I had experienced before but you think, they are half a world away, it takes time (I know...). After a month into the job - and by that time the job was supposed to be done - they stopped responding. I sent a message calling for some response, some explanation or at least an announcement they quit every week for four weeks, and then I gave up. In the end, I didn't loose any money, I just really liked their pictures which were perfectly in synch with the hilarious story. Take a look for yourself...