Parents despairing of ever being able to separate their offspring from the mobile devices glued to their fingertips might be interested in an app called Play My Way that’s being built by a startup from Lebanon and designed to interrupt other apps with a little worthy educational content.
The team, currently based in London as part of a three-month accelerator program for Lebanese startups, reckons the answer to mobile addiction is not to ban or limit access to devices but rather to harness the stickiness of mobile technology as an opportunity for bite-size homework.
“The idea behind Play.My.Way is to make the best of the kid’s addiction,” says co-founder Salma Jawhar.
The learning takes the form of multiple choice questions in subjects such as math, science and English, with the app interrupting whatever else the device was being used for to push a question at the child. It’s basically push notification for homework.
Kids have to answer a question (and answer it correctly) if they want to get back to playing Candy Crush or watching YouTube or whatever else they were doing. The targeted age range is six- to fourteen-year-olds, with parents able to tailor questions to the appropriate grade level. The Play My Way app needs to be installed on kids’ devices to function.
The app does have a ‘help me’ button (which supplies the answer) and a ‘skip question’ option, so it’s not the hardest of taskmasters — although the number of helps is limited.
“Technically, our app does not interrupt. It just moves from background to foreground,” says Jawhar. “That way, if a child is playing (Minecraft for example) and Play.My.Way became the active app, all previous apps are immediately sent to run in the background.
“When interrupted, the child can ignore Play.My.Way, press the home button, and go back to their previous game. After 10 seconds, they will be interrupted again. This applies to any app, including the native phone functions. So suppose Play.My.Way is on the top, then, a phone call interrupts… after the phone call is done, Play.My.Way will remind the user that a question is waiting.”
The app does have a bit of a tell-tale character. “Parents are notified by email when their kid tries to close the app and a funny siren sound will play on the kid’s phone, along with a message asking them to go back to their question!” she adds.
The team has been working on the concept since April 2015, initially starting out crowdsourcing question content. They have amassed around 25,000 questions at this point and say they are negotiating with several suppliers to keep growing their educational content.
“We have an online portal for authors and reviewers where we crowd source teachers to create questions. Each question is reviewed twice by two different reviewers. We produce 4,000 new questions each month to be added to our database,” says Jawhar.
The beta version of the app launched in March 2016, and has around 23,000 users so far. It’s currently free but the intention for the team is to monetize the app via a $4.99 monthly subscription in future. The team started out bootstrapping but after launch were able to pull in $1 million from two angel investors for 10% of the company, according to Jawhar.
It’s possible the app might end up encouraging children to use their mobile devices less — given they’ll be forced to do regular homework every time they play. But even if they remain as addicted to their phones and tablets as ever, the overarching aim is to have parents worry less by having at least some of their gadget playtime focused on targeted learning.