Menlo Park-based YogiPlay, the educational-focused recommendation service for children’s apps, is today announcing its “Parent Center” app is available across all major mobile platforms, including iOS, Google Play, Kindle and Nook. The company, backed by $1 million in venture funding, introduced its app rating system called “YogiMeter” earlier this summer, with plans to further integrate those ratings into its online and mobile offerings at a later date. However, its parent-facing iOS app had been held up in Apple’s approval queue until now.
The non-iOS versions of the YogiPlay Parent Center were already available, to be clear, but during the five and half months the app was in review with Apple, many changes to the user interface and experience have been introduced. Essentially, all the apps are different versions from what the company first revealed.
The holdup, in case you’re curious, had to do with Apple’s new policy on apps that recommend other apps. Apple had to be assured that what YogiPlay was offering was more than a simple recommendation service – that is, Apple needed to see that it provided a real value to iOS users. For what it’s worth, it seems Apple is convinced of that now.
For those unfamiliar, YogiPlay was started by husband-and-wife team Cedric and Michal Selling, both Stanford-trained engineers – and concerned parents. Cedric previously worked at Aruba Wireless and Michal was an early Google employee. The founders wanted to offer a system that could help parents find the appropriate, quality educational apps for children in today’s mobile apps stores, specifically apps for children aged 3 to 8. In June of this year, the company brought in Dr. Jim Gray, who previously served as the Director of Learning at LeapFrog, where he was in charge of all curricula for the last seven or so years. At YogiPlay, he led the development of the YogiMeter ratings system, which ranks apps in both engagement and educational quality.
In the new Parent Center app, parents can browse a mini app store of sorts which features age-appropriate apps in categories like art and music, literacy, math, learning-for-life, and more. The “YogiMeter” rating lets parents view the engagement and learning value scores for each app, as well as read an educational overview about the app and details of the app’s learning category. In another section, parents can view the progress and skill reports for their children when the kids play apps that use YogiPlay’s SDK, which offers these features as well as analytics and reporting for developers.
Despite the quality content and educational value of YogiPlay’s platform, the app itself needs polish. Some parts of it load slower than expected, as if HTML-based instead of native (the entire screen even refreshes when navigating between sections!), and overall the app’s design feels like an afterthought. (Note: app tested on iPhone). That’s really too bad because parents need a resource like this, and YogiPlay has the right underpinnings to be a success in the kids’ app industry.
YogiPlay is not the first to attempt to rank and rate the increasingly unwieldy selection of apps available on mobile platforms. Other companies, in particular, KinderTown, do this, too. (And with a significantly better user interface.) Plus, startups like FingerPrint Digital and Kidaptive among others, are also focused on merging child development and educational concepts with kid-friendly mobile entertainment. However, there are few companies focused on looking at the app ecosystem as a whole, and attempting to analyze the subset of children’s apps it contains, as YogiPlay is working towards now.
In August, the company had rated over 600 apps using YogiMeter, which bases app ratings on things like the app’s ability to teach, whether the app will actually engage the child in learning, whether that learning is deep, authentic, personalized, differentiated, and whether or not parents can track the child’s progress throughout. Today, the company has rated around 700 apps.
Despite its user interface shortcomings, it’s clear the service is addressing a real need. At the time of its ratings system debut, 45,000 parents had registered on the site, event though they couldn’t yet see the YogiMeter ratings within YogiPlay’s online app catalog. Today, that user base has grown to 78,000 parents with over 125,000 children, and is serving up more than 10,000 app downloads per day. The company reports it’s on track for 3 million downloads by year-end, and is starting to get the attention of bigger brands, including that of kid TV host Jeff Corwin and others which they can’t yet disclose. The startup is now beginning talks of a Series A round of financing, following this iOS debut.