App for Kids? What Better Tester Than . . . A Kid

Post a Comment » Written on January 24th, 2011     
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ROSEVILLE, CA (January 24, 2011) – When Aaron Robbins’ family would visit Yosemite National Park, his three-year-old daughter nearly overwhelmed him with questions, but her inquisitiveness inspired the Bayside Covenant Church staff member to write a book entitled Who Made Campfires that he has published as an iPhone application.

Kennedy Robbins, now four, also has served as “beta tester” for the book and a subsequent game, Arky Arky, that her father also designed for the iPhone.

Robbins published the book, which actually is a long poem, last June and then produced the game several months later. Arky Arky involves moving figures of different animals so that the same ones are displayed vertically. The number of animals to move increases with each level.

Robbins says he understands some people would be surprised that iPhone games and books would be designed for such young children. But kids are used to technology, he says.

“If we were to get an iPhone with games on it 10 years ago, it would have been just a marvel to us,” he says, adding, “But she’s been unlocking my iPhone and playing games on it since she was around two. Just from watching my fingers unlock the phone, she would repeat the pattern, even if she didn’t know what the numbers meant.”

Robbins, who serves as Bayside’s online media director, laughs and observes, “She’s been playing the games – and calling 911 on it for a long time.”

Children such as Kennedy are increasingly aware of how iPhones work because Apple imposes standards that require apps to work in similar fashion. “Three and four-year-olds can anticipate the way something works,” Robbins says.

An example from a visit to a Yosemite hotel is telling. “In the hotel, there was this older kind of TV, but you could use the remote control to check out your bill,” Robbins says. “My daughter went straight to the TV and when she saw the menu, she tried to swipe the screen with her finger to make this thing work. That’s how ingrained working that kind of device is.”

That knowledge has led Kennedy to play an important role while Robbins programmed the book and game. “She would sit on my lap, and I would run it on the simulator for her and see what was too hard for her,” he explains. “I wasn’t listening to what she was saying about it, but I was watching the way she wanted to interact with it.”

“The game I’m working on now is much more complicated,” says Robbins. “She sits on my lap every night. She’s really excited about being my beta tester. That’s a long way from when I was four.”

Programming the apps, which he had never done, also was a way for Robbins to develop those skills for his job at Bayside. “That gave me really digestible chunks to learn,” he says. “I wouldn’t try to learn entire app programming. I would learn just how to get an image on the screen. Then I’d learn how to get that image to move.”

That moving image in the iPhone book is a ladybug that crosses the screen. Children can collect bugs by tapping on them. A subsequent version for the iPad doesn’t include the bugs, but does feature a moving sun as the book progresses through a day at Yosemite.

Yosemite also played an inspirational role in the book. The illustrations, done by a friend, are based on views within the park.

“There has to be something wrong with you to stand in the middle of the El Capitan meadow and think this is probably all accidental, that this wasn’t the work of the hand of a creator,” Robbins adds.

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