No Chocolate-Covered Broccoli Allowed: My Interview With Peapod Labs

Posted on June 20, 2011


Special thanks to PeaPod Labs for taking time out of their busy schedule to answer our questions.

My Appinions: How did you and your team get started developing apps for the iOS world?

PeaPod Labs: In fall 2008 Jared, Jun and I joined IIT’s Institute of Design to get a Master in User Centered Design. We met at school and had the opportunity to work together on multiple projects during the first two years of the program. During Fall 2010 the iPad was announced and while many people spent time mocking the device and laughing about its name, we were trying to understand how this new device would fit in the market. After analyzing the product’s main attributes, we recognized the potential it had to change education as we know it. While working together we realized that we were compatible and complementary and the opportunity to add value to children and their families became the common vision that gave birth to Peapod Labs.

My Appinions:  Why educational apps?

PeaPod Labs: The three main reason we have to become educational app developers are:
1- Jared has two beautiful children (our toughest prototype testers) and Jun has a gorgeous daughter, both of them felt naturally inclined to become key contributors to their kids’ educational development. In my case, I am one of those guys that believes that the benefit of the future is in the hands of the children of today, so we better do everything in our power to help them grow with the best tools and skills they can have.

2- While in grad school we got involved in a project with the Chicago Children’s Museum that left a strong impression in our minds. Prototyping and testing concepts with children was so enlightening and fulfilling that we wanted it to become part of our future professional lives. Developing educational apps enable us to enjoy that magnificent experience over and over again.

3- When we came together to decide our future we agreed on the following criteria: we have to enjoy our work, it has to involve creativity and innovation, and last but not least it has to enable us to add value. Educational app development is the perfect vehicle we found to fulfill our needs.

My Appinions:  What do you think it is that has made your apps so successful?

PeaPod Labs: There are several things that contribute to the quality of our products. The first one is the User Centered Design process that we learned at the Institute of Design. The strength of this process is that it’s technology agnostic and product agnostic and is totally based on satisfying and fulfilling explicit or latent user needs. When we design any app we begin with the children and their parents in mind, we observe their behaviors and needs, analyze them and synthesize solutions to address the identified needs. Immediately after, we proceed to prototype, prototype, and prototype. We repeat that cycle until we release our apps to the market.

The second one is hard work. At Peapod Labs we work relentlessly to bring ideas to life at the best possible quality. Attention to detail is embedded in our young start-up DNA. Our design process can be emotionally dived in three phases: The Concept Development, The Prototyping, and the Release phase. The first and last stages are incredibly stressful and work intensive, it’s an emotional roller coaster of happiness and despair that drains us everyday. The middle of the process is fun and exiting because we test our concept with children, and watching them interact with our concepts fills us with energy. The secret to be able to deal with the highly charged emotional roller coaster is “our Ping Pong table”, an hour of Table Tennis a day helps us manage stress and relief tension.

Another key ingredient is passion. We are able to work as hard as we do because we are in love and totally committed to it. In conclusion work doesn’t feel like work.

My Appinions:  Can you briefly mention some of the most memorable feedback you have received from users of your apps?

PeaPod Labs: This is a tough question to answer because we have received alot of great feedback from our users each of them encouraging us to keep innovating and work harder.

Let me share with you the most emotional moment we have experienced as a company. We received this email to our support address “ABC Wildlife appears to be stuck on the title page.” We immediately replied with a solution to the issue and this is part of the email we received afterwards: “Yes, I followed your instructions and re-installed it and it’s working fine now. It’s a great app and my son, who has special needs, just loves it.” That email touched us in the best of ways because it made us realize the impact of our apps in peoples lives. While we design an app, we have a audience in mind and a goal for the app, we carefully plan the aesthetics, mechanics and story, but after the app is released it leaves our control and becomes a part of the user’s life. What they do with it, how and when they use it is up to them and we only hope that we can add value to their lives.

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A couple of other feedback write ups from our iTunes review are:
“My favourite kids educational app
by KASHF on Mar 14, 2011 version 2.3
I am really surprised by the fact that this app has so few reviews. It is hands-down not only my toddler’s but also my favourite app to do together. With high-quality videos, clear spelling, crisp photos and very frequent content updates this is an outstanding educational tool. I’d give it 10 stars if I could!”

“Fantastic programs with constant updates
by MonkeyKingMaestro on Jan 28, 2011 version 2.3
I downloaded ABC Wildlife back in version 1. At the time I have to admit I was a bit disappointed but my daughter loved the program so I kept it on the iPad. Through the constant updates the developer has shown time and time again that they are committed to this app and now with version 2.3, the app is worlds apart from it’s initial incarnation. I have grown to like this app tremendously, my daughter has learned to spell some of the animals and through the videos, has learned much about animal habitats and behaviors. I’ve recommended this app numerous times and it has now inspired me to write my first review! I cannot stress how important it is to me that a developer stays with an app and doesn’t abandon it after it’s released, so kudos to the developer for the updated interface, updated links and continuous support. Oh and yes, this is still one of my daughter’s favorite programs, that means a lot if you understand the attention span of a 2-year old.”

by Steph0331 on Jun 11, 2011 version 2.3
My 3 year old and I like to take turns choosing animal videos to watch together. Easy for little ones to use. A very nice app.”

My Appinions:  Do you have any apps in the works? If so, would you mind sharing some details?

PeaPod Labs:  We are always working on something new. As part of our commitment to create value in the mobile education space we are testing different methods to deliver learning experiences. At this point we have our ABC Series focused on digital literacy and content delivery, and Bugsy the Blue Hamster (currently undergoing a complete overhaul) aimed at curriculum based education, and Firehouse Adventure, which is our first educational gaming title focused on jobs. We are working on more titles and updates for these platforms and have a couple new ones ready to go.

My Appinions:  What is your preferred mode of communication with users of your apps (Twitter, Facebook, website, etc) and do you implement their suggestions into updates often?

PeaPod Labs:  For general communication purposes we rely mainly on our web page, Twitter and Facebook. We take customer support very seriously and that takes place through our support page and via emails. We get excited with our customers’ recommendations and take note to analyze them and if they add value include them. These recommendations span from content additions to mechanics. The evolution of our platforms has been fueled by insights provided by our users. Even more, our future development plans are mainly shaped by user analytics, reviewers and user opinions, and by app store performance.

My Appinions:  What advice do you have for developers out there who are just getting started creating educational apps for kids?
A. As always we have three recommendations. The first one is do it because you love it. The app store is a tough competitive environment and results are far from instantaneous, anybody jumping into the education app business needs stamina to hold up during the tough times and the only source for that strength is love and passion for the task at hand.

PeaPod Labs: The second recommendation is to add value. There are about 39000 educational apps in the store. Differentiation should be achieved through adding value to the children and their families and not through quick rank boosting schemes. The goal of developing educational apps is enriching kids and families lives through innovation.

Third and last, work hard and don’t stop regardless of what naysayers say. It is always easier to accept a no than to refute it with a “we can do it”. But when teams are compatible, complementary, open to accept constructive critique and have the capability to work relentlessly for a common vision there is nothing that can stop them from achieving the goals. If educational app development is your goal, build a vision, set up a team, and start moving forward.

Posted in: Interview