New Report Finds Rapid Growth in Children’s App Market

 
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Photo by Fancy Jantzi.

1.18.12 | The number of apps for toddlers and preschoolers grew by 23 percent in the last two years, according to a new report by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop. In a follow up to its 2009 analysis of education apps available in the iTunes App Store, the Cooney Center this week released “iLearn II: An Analysis of the Education Category of Apple’s App Store.”

The authors examined 200 top-selling education category apps for Apple’s iPad and iPhone and found that the market for educational media for young kids continues to explode, as Carly Shuler writes in the report’s introduction:

In 2007, when the iPhone made its debut, there was little doubt that it would revolutionize the mobile phone industry. However, at the time, few imagined that it would spawn a multibillion‐dollar market for mobile applications (apps), and fewer imagined that this market might become a significant one for children. Yet less than five years later, more than a quarter of all parents have downloaded apps for their children to use (Common Sense Media, 2011). Babies have achieved virtual celebrity for mistaking a magazine for a broken iPad, children now learn to ‘swipe’ before they can tie their shoes, and tweens and teens coveted the iPad over any other gift this holiday season (Nielsen, 2011).

The report is aimed at developers, along with researchers and policymakers interested in this growing market and opportunities for development. 

Michael Levine, executive director of the Cooney Center, says that though kids under age 8 continue to watch a lot of television, “the kids media environment is quickly going mobile.” Adults, he adds, should be leveraging apps as “a key ally in supporting children’s learning.”

Among the reports key findings:

  • Over 80% of the top selling paid apps in the Education category of the iTunes Store target children.
  • In 2009, almost half (47%) of the top selling apps targeted preschool or elementary aged children. That number has increased to almost three-quarters (72%).
  • The percentage of apps for children has risen in every age category, accompanied by a decrease in apps for adults.
  • Apps for toddlers/preschoolers are the most popular age category (58%), and experienced the greatest growth (23%).
  • Most children’s apps cost 99 cents (36%) or $1.99(38%). The average price of an app has risen by $1 since 2009.
  • Fourteen percent of the apps mentioned school usage in their descriptions.
  • Of the entire sample, only two iPhone apps and zero iPad apps were based on well‐known, branded characters.
  • One hundred and nine different publishers were represented within the sample; 89 of these publishers were not represented in the sample two years ago.

A 2011 report from Common Sense Media found that 38 percent of lower-income parents don’t know about apps for children, while 47 percent of higher income parents have downloaded apps for their children. Authors recommend that policymakers and researches pay attention to managing this “app gap.”

Researchers at the Cooney Center also recommend industry leaders collaborate with policy makers to create standards for products marked as educational and to make information about these products’ educational potential, impact and age appropriateness more available to parents and educators.

The report also focuses attention on protecting kids from commercialism in the digital age and the importance of setting a targeted research agenda to better understand this new growing app market.

There’s also a helpful pull-out box in the report on a proposed research agenda.  Jennifer Kotler, vice president of domestic research at Sesame Workshop, highlights important areas of inquiry, including the effects of app use on spatial and motor development, activities being replaced by time spent with apps, and, most importantly, making sure interactions between kids and parents around apps are positive ones.

The Cooney Center has also been conducting a series of “quick studies” on print and e-books involving families with preschool children. Though researchers caution the results are preliminary, they found that most of the children “preferred reading an e-book to a print book and comprehension between the two formats were the same,” according to coverage in Digital Book World. But when comparing regular e-books to enhanced, more interactive e-books, children recalled fewer story details.

“Kids were more focused on tapping things and that took away from their comprehension as well as the interaction between the parent and the child,” Shuler said.

This reminded me of an important post I read recently at the Time Ideas blog, in which the New America Foundation’s Lisa Guernsey discusses research concerning “how much it matters what parents say and do while their children watch” and interact with new media.

Research out of Vanderbilt University found that parents need training on how to ask the right questions and prompt their children to discuss the story in an e-book.  The questions didn’t come as naturally as when reading a regular book with a child.

Guernsey writes:

That conversational interaction, dubbed “dialogic reading” by Grover Whitehurst, director of education policy at the Brookings Institution, can be critical to learning. “The optimal situation is the back-and-forth interaction,” said Warren Buckleitner, an educational psychologist and editor of Children’s Technology Review, who led me to many YouTube videos of toddlers with their iPad-proud papas directing their every move. Several decades ago at Michigan State University, Buckleitner conducted studies on 3- to 5-year olds playing matching games on computers. His research showed that it’s not just commands from parents that can interfere with children’s engagement. Too many directives from software programs can have the same effect, ultimately shortchanging children’s learning. The best kids’ e-media, Buckleitner says, “lets children understand they are in the driver’s seat.”

Read more: Why E-Reading with Your Kid Can Impede Learning. And you can download the full iLearn report at the Cooney Center’s website.

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