Creating a language learning app for the Appstore is no easy no task and the delivery is increasingly difficult.
High cost of development: Combining content with programming
Apple’s Appstore was originally envisaged as a marketplace to download small widgets, games as well as applets to fulfil a specific function on the phone. Steve Job’s vision was that the prices were no more than a ringtone. Aside from games, I would wager that up to 90% of apps on the Appstore fulfil a very specific function such as an alarm clock, a diet tracker and so on.
The process of language learning (our area) requires a lot of content development alongside the technical development. Unlike a photo sharing app or a diet tracker, the content is not user generated but developed by experts. Many of our courses have the equivalent of 200 hours of learning content – all of which needs to be written, planned, edited, recorded and so on. At the same time the programming work is undertaken.
Done properly, it is a time consuming and costly enterprise.
But, of course, there are tons of mass produced apps which are basic, built quickly with a template app and pay no attention to the learning process. “Learn 1000 Arabic words”
Overcrowded in a small market
The educational market on the Appstore is very small in comparison to gaming and social media. Furthermore, Appstore revenues are becoming increasingly concentrated into the hands of large developers who dominate certain key areas.
Whereas previously the appstore was a marketplace where new developers and even solo developers could battle it out with traditional established brands, this is becoming increasingly difficult to penetrate the established appstore rankings with new content (without a large advertising budget to spur downloads).
Apple is now also considering a paid ranking system to show sponsored apps at the top.
Established brands have found it difficult to deliver desirable content. In the educational (language learning arena) a good example is Rosetta Stone which was a household brand ten years ago but is now slowly collapsing as seen by it share price and continuance to lay off staff.
Other language learning apps have emerged such as Duolingo. From a pedagogical point of view, we are still baffled by its popularity.
Overcrowded with nonsense
The Apple Appstore has the advantage (for developers and users) that apps are first vetted, checked and approved by Apple. This firstly ensures that there are no bugs, spyware or spam. It also means that beta apps are blocked and generally, apps that are too basic don’t make the cut either.
The user, unless he downloads fifteen apps, makes a decision based on the app icon, screenshots, reviews and if he reads it, the description. The elements for making a decision are very limited. Nonetheless, when searching online there are even less elements (merely title, description and URL). The search engine ranking, however, is the biggest and most reliable factor in the decision on where to click. Most searches are now restricted to the first page. However there are some major difference between web searches and Appstore searches.
Inadequate search engines on the Appstore
For online web based searches, the search engines can assess the quality of the website. First of all, the bots can trawl the entire site and analyse the data and then cross reference this data with other sites and the entire web.
The search engine can then assess the content according to the amount of relevant content to a particular topic, the website’s reputation based on the connections with other sites, the amount of visitors and returning visitors.
On the Appstore, the search results are based on five meta key words, the description, title and the user ratings.
It is easy to see how countless apps for “learn arabic” can have exactly the same results regardless of whether there is 1 hour of learning content of 200. The ranking is therefore not related to the quality of the content.
Additionally – and this is no fault of the Appstore – it is difficult for any potential learner to gauge the content from a learning point of view.
As a result of all these factors, it is becoming increasingly difficult to offer premium content at affordable prices and reaching the target audience.
There are countless apps on the Appstore which would be better suited as web services or delivered via social platforms. At some point, the marketplace needs to make such suggestions to avoid complete inundation.
The success of gamified apps such as Duolingo et al indicate that a mobile device which ought to be a perfect medium for learning (as a time killer) has been overtaken by entertainment style learning apps.
In our opinion, moving towards a holistic approach seems to be the only way forward. This fits in with our original eImmersionPlus strategy whereby the content permeates the users lifestyle aiming to emulate an immersive experience.
A premium service for paid content is more appropriate than ad-based models. This is because ads diminish the value of the content and distract. Whereas other types of apps such as games may not be affected by advertising, education which requires a high degree of cognition and reflection will be undermined by adverts with flashing lights.
The premium model requires brand loyalty built up with existing users via trial content, relevant resources and good high quality services which they tell their peers about.
A new type of Appstore for Educational Apps
My personal opinion is the Appstore is becoming inadequate for educational content. There is also the iBooks Store (which is an odd marketplace of digital books) and iTunesU so I wonder whether there could be specialised store for rich interactive educational content but with a key difference: content is vetted, like a book retailer, for its suitability and whether a company such as Apple or Google would want to be associated with poor, substandard content. In the light of MOOC aggregators and and platforms such as Coursera delivering marketplaces for educational content, one should expect the tech giants to do the same.