iPad guilt? There needs to be a technical term for that feeling in the pit of a parent’s stomach that arises from handing over the iPad to their kids, only to watch them play brain rotting Outfit7 games or level after level of Angry Birds. Fortunately, some startups are focusing on developing more educational content for the iPad to help parents assuage some of their guilt over their kids’ ever-increasing screen time.
One such company is Daily Interactive, which is now launching Happly for iPad, a collection of original and curated content for kids, including online videos, games, and stories. And while the content may be deemed educational, the kids might not realize it, given the app’s focus on topics kids love to explore, like dinosaurs, space, sports, animals, how to’s and more.
The company was created by Brian Monnin and Greg Harris, who met back in the 90’s launching and developing interactive products for MSNBC.com. They later co-founded MetaStories, which was sold to Brightcove back in 2005. Harris was the creative director of MSNBC.com and, most recently, NationalGeographic.com, where he was in charge of the redesign of all their digital properties.
In other words, these two know a thing or two about creating digital content. But their motives for developing Happly were more personal ones. Explains Monnin, “I created Happly so that my wife Janine and I could get a better handle on filtering out websites and videos that we wouldn’t want our boys (ages 5 and 9) stumbling into. The iPad is clearly a great addition to our home but we’ve had our share of not-so-cool experiences with connected devices, too.”
He details some of those experiences here – it’s a funny, but sadly relatable story about how his kid learns how to drop the f-bomb courtesy of YouTube.
And so, Happly was conceived.
The app itself is rather clever. Instead of simply bundling its content into one large collection, parents can administer the app by setting up PIN-protected profiles where they customize what their children see. The categories, which include things like “Did you know?,” “How to do Stuff,” “Space & Beyond,” “Weird & Wacky,” “Dinos,” “Funny Videos,” and more, can all be toggled on and off as the parent chooses. (Note that I did encounter a bug where the toggles froze after my first customization, but the bug fix is being submitted to the App Store today, so it should no longer be an issue following the update).
As noted above, some content is curated from web sources, while other content is originally produced. For example, the app’s creators added an informational graphic to augment a collection of stories about James Cameron’s dive to the Mariana Trench. On another piece, they worked with photographer Michael Nichols to refine his lifelong study of African elephants into kid-friendly format. “Our background – whether it be all the way back to MSNBC.com, or Discovery Channel, or National Geographic – is rooted in interactive storytelling,” says Monnin. “So it’s not just video or just games, it’s a blend.”
Plus, parents can add their own discoveries to the app, with features that let them search for new stories via an in-app browser or new videos from an in-app “add YouTube video” button. These features are only available from the parents’ login, however. Since parents set up profiles for each child, the child can only view the approved content, not search for new items.
Another interesting feature is an in-app messaging system that allows parent and child to communicate by leaving messages for each other. It’s a lot like what FingerPrint Digital is doing with their SDK for educational game makers, in fact. As with FingerPrint, the idea here is that the iPad doesn’t have to reproduce the passive TV-watching experience, it can be a platform for two-way communication and learning combined.
The challenge, of course, is making all this content as appealing as another round of a kid’s favorite mobile game. “Our closet competitor is…every Angry Birds-type game that’s out there,” Monnin admits.
Daily Interactive is a five-person Seattle-based company which also produces digital apps and content for customers including NatGeo, Microsoft and others to help fund Happly’s development.
Happly is available for the iPad only, and is live in iTunes here.