Mobile Apps | Feature

New Program Pairs Educators with Free iPad Apps

For a kids’ app to be noticed in Apple's iTunes store, says app developer Patrick Larsson, "it's almost like winning the lottery." After he and his business partner Jens Ode, founders of the ad-free kids app company Happi Papi, struggled to get their apps noticed amid the clutter, they created the App Evaluation Program for Schools. 

"We wanted to do something to increase people's awareness of how great of a learning tool the iPad can be," Larsson said. "At the same time, we were trying to find some way other than the App Store for people in our target audience to find us."

The App Evaluation Program for Schools allows teachers to test educational apps for kids for free.

The apps, which cover everything from math, spelling, and reading to language learning, storyboard building, and puzzles, are provided by developers around the world and sent to teachers two or three times per month. Teachers receive a questionnaire after testing the app as a way to help developers improve, but Larsson stresses they are not required to fill it out. 

"This is a way for teachers to test risk free what we believe are good apps,” Larsson said, “and, if they believe they're good, we're hoping they'll end up buying copies for all of their iPads."

Larsson and Ode, both native Swedes who now live in South Tampa, FL, began the App Evaluation Program for Schools for their own apps. They enlisted the help of a few teachers in Sweden to spread the word and, within the first hour of opening the program, around 50 teachers signed up.

"We were really happy with that," Larsson said. "It just went up from there."

Encouraged by the positive response, Larsson and Ode wondered, "Why not offer teachers apps other than our own?"

The two posted the offer to developers on an online forum and within a month the program had expanded internationally. Happi Papi and the other new developers then sent out a press release and more than tripled their numbers.

"It's been totally amazing," Larsson said. "We've gone from six developers and 300 teachers to 35 developers and 1,000 teachers in a week."

The two, who operate the entire program themselves free of charge to developers, now face what Larsson calls the "luxury problem" of supplying every teacher with promo codes for apps, since Apple only gives out 50 for free.

"If they're interested in a particular app, then we will find them a code, even if we have to actually buy the app and gift it to them," he said.

As parents themselves, Larsson and Ode not only have "the best beta testers" for their apps (Larsson tests Happi Papi's apps at his 6-year-old daughter's birthday parties), but have also seen firsthand the way apps benefit learning.

"I think [kids] learn faster because they get to learn in a sneaky way if the developers are good," Larsson said. "That means they will make learning fun, which means the kids will think it's playing when it's really learning."

Larsson imagines a future in which the Apps Evaluation Program for Schools continues to improve the quality of educational apps available.

"In the long run, I hope this will keep the iPad in the classrooms as a teaching aid," Larsson said.

He emphasizes the program benefits every party involved.

"I'm calling it a win-win-win situation because it's a win for all of the other developers as well," he said. "If that point can come across then I'm happy--happy with an 'i' that is." 

About the Author

Kim Fortson is a San Francisco-based freelance writer. Find her on Twitter @kimfortson.