The iPad is the first computer a generation of children will have access to – a shift in computing which has birthed an industry of kid-focused startups. While some companies build apps purely for entertainment, others are attempting to leverage the technology for educational purposes. And some believe they can do both. A new entrant in this “edu-tainment” space is Kidaptive, a media and technology company building educational kids’ apps for the iPad. The company has raised an over-subscribed, but undisclosed, seed round, and is now soft-launching its first iPad app, “Leo’s Pad,” in Australia, the U.K. and Canada, ahead of its U.S. debut.
The funding round was led by Menlo Ventures, and includes participation from CrunchFund, Veddis Ventures, S-Cubed Capital, Krantz Holdings, VKRM Ventures, iCamp, and Prana Holdings, which is also Kidaptive’s animation partner. As a part of the funding, Menlo’s Dubose Montgomery joined Kidaptive’s board of directors.
Kidaptive’s founder and CEO P.J. Gunsagar also co-founded and served as president of Prana Studios, a 3D visual effects studio with 1,000 employees in L.A. and Mumbai, India. (Parents will know the company best as the studio behind the Tinker Bell films.) Gunsagar is joined at Kidaptive by co-founder and “Chief Learning Officer” Dylan Arena, whose background is in cognitive science, philosophy and statistics, with multiple degrees in all three from Stanford.
Also at Kidaptive, is Creative Director Dan Danko, who has written for a number of children’s TV shows including “Rugrats,” “Fresh Beat Band,” and PBS’ “Word World.” Incidentally, other former “Word World” creators have been developing a similarly focused edu-tainment iPad app known as PlaySquare.TV.
It’s not a coincidence that there are a number of educational apps on the iPad emerging from those with a background in children’s television, not to mention from top kids’ brands like Sesame St., Disney, Nickelodeon, and others. This industry has long sought to break down the barrier of the fourth wall, and communicate directly with the children on the receiving end of their efforts to entertain and teach. In today’s TV shows, those efforts feel inauthentic and forced, such as when Dora asks “what was your favorite part?” and then blinks while waiting the child’s response. Kids quickly learn that they don’t have to answer, and the show will continue without their involvement. On the iPad, that’s no longer true. Their actions or inactions not only help progress the story, they can also be measured, monitored and personalized to the child’s own level.
This is the future of children’s entertainment.
Introducing “Leo’s Pad”
Gunsagar, whose background is in animation, was inspired to create Leo’s Pad because of something he felt was lacking in the industry. “I became disillusioned with the fact that content was so sugary,” he says. “I wanted to determine if there was an opportunity to combine animation with real learning.”
That’s the big idea at Kidaptive, whose first product is an iPad app called Leo’s Pad. Like a TV show, Leo’s Pad engages children with a storyline that introduces a young Leonardo da Vinci, his pet dragon, and friend Galileo. But it’s also infused with educational activities which are masked as games. For example, kids drag shapes on the iPad’s screen in a puzzle game which has them building a telescope – Leo’s birthday present to Galileo. They also look for letters in the stars, fly their dragon into puffs of smoke, and perform other tasks which will focus on things like shapes, colors, number sense, drawing, letter identification, and more.
What’s Unique? Parental Involvement
But Leo’s Pad will do something else, too, which makes it unique to the space – it will offer parents a “Kidashboard” that displays their child’s progress. This alone is not a novel idea – other kids’ app makers like Fingerprint Digital and Duck Duck Moose, to name a couple, are developing tools that let parents track progress, among other things. (Fingerprint even offers theirs as an SDK). But the dashboard developed by Kidaptive is the most comprehensive we’ve seen so far. It goes beyond simply telling parents what their child did or did not do within the app to identify the child’s individual strengths and weaknesses, their overall personality type, their progress on each skill set (fine motor skills, shape recognition, etc.), and it will even inform parents how they can help continue the child’s education in the offline world with specific tasks.
“Under the hood, we’re building a high-dimensional learner profile, and that profile is going to guide all the subsequent actions,” explains Arena. “As your learner plays though the title, we will have approximately 150 gameplay experiences that will help us build out this longitudinal development profile of the learner across some 25 or 30 learning dimensions.”
Or in other words, the app has a really, really smart backend.
In addition, Leo’s Pad is the first kid-focused app which encourages parent-and-child co-play, meaning some puzzles and activities are designed for parent and child to do together. If parents don’t help, it doesn’t prevent the story from progressing, but offers parents concerned about the iPad’s role as “digital babysitter” a way to participate. And having parents participate keeps the child motivated to learn.
Leo’s Pad will offer three “appisodes” by December, and should have half a dozen by the end of Q1 2013. Once in full production, new appisodes will arrive every two or three weeks, likely priced as in-app purchases for 99 cents or $1.99 apiece. Further down the road, Kidaptive will release a second title aimed at five through six year olds, a step up from Leo’s Pad age demographic of 3 to 5. Future titles aiming at even older children may follow.
Kidaptive has soft-launched in the U.K., Canada, and Australia iTunes App Stores, and its U.S. launch will soon follow.