What makes a good app?

As many of you know, I have presented at various state conferences on using apps in therapy – and comparing or showcasing apps so people can see what they’re really like without laying out a wad of cash. Today’s post is about how I choose what makes a good app. What makes a good app for you may be different, but I hope the post would give you food for thought so you know what “good” is.   News Flash! contest …apps can get expensive!  Okay, that wasn’t exactly a new news flash, we all know apps are spendy, don’t we? We won’t get into the diatribe. But, when you get done reading here, I highly suggest you go read what the Speech Dudes have to say about “free” apps.

But what…exactly…makes it a good app?

I’m not going to get into AAC or those kinds of apps because I firmly believe that is dependent on the needs of the client. But what makes an every day speech-therapy app decent? What makes one app above the others and the reason why it’s a “go-to” app? As many of you know, I am friends with and work as an app consultant for Smarty Ears apps. I’m also friends with the people over at Tactus Therapy, and I’m friends with Erik Raj who makes fun articulation apps, and I’ve chatted with the folks over at Mobile Education Store. I have apps from all of these developers (and more).

When I give app reviews and demonstrations I work very hard to be non-biased with my reviews. Are there some developers I’m more willing to demonstrate – you bet. But only because they historically present great apps. There are some I won’t review or demonstrate because the company (in my opinion) is on the edge of copyright infringement and rather underhanded in their dealings. Thank goodness there’s enough incredible apps that I can hold app developers to a higher standard and not deal with those that I feel are less than ethical.

But…beyond the developer – what makes a good app?  (necessary disclaimer: these are all MY opinions – feel free to leave yours in the comments, I may change how I think!)

1. To be a truly outstanding app – it must keep data over time. I want to be able to use it for 6 months or two years and look back over time and see the trends and progress for my students. This is critical. Yes, I transfer that information to paper – but I like to have it in the app as well.

2) It should be (although it can’t always) able to be used for either single students or groups. There are very few times that most school-based SLPs actually have single students in therapy. It does no good if I can’t use the data the app supplies because I have to use groups and the app doesn’t keep scores for groups. Also, I really REALLY like it when I can tailor the targets within the app to something that specific child needs.  For instance, Smarty Ears Articulate it! I can have up to 5 kids all working on different sounds; or with Language Adventures I can have up to 5 kids all working on very different language goals.

3) It must be engaging. I don’t want to get tired of looking at it – and I don’t want the kids to get bored playing it. BUT, it must also be not so incredibly visually overloaded that I can’t stand looking at it either.

4) It must be linked to research in some way. I want to know that the authors took the time to research what they were going to create – and how to do it – before they made the app. While the app itself doesn’t have to be researched, the techniques and theory within the app should be (for instance, my Cycles based app Phono Learning Center which took almost a year to create), or Tactus Therapy’s Comprehension app.

5) It must be fairly priced. Note, I did not say, nor did I imply, free. Most of the developers that I work with are also SLPs. Most of the people who author the apps (that I know) are SLPs. As such, not a one of us are independently wealthy. There is a lot of sweat equity in apps…and in the case of developers, very real people who are depending on those apps to pay their bills.

Let me demonstrate. I will speak of Smarty Ears (sorry Barbara!) simply because I know a tiny bit about how they work. Barbara is an SLP, her husband Jonathan is an English teacher. They created Smarty Ears a few years ago and for a while it was just Barbara creating the apps (before iPads were released I may add – the first apps were for iPod touches and iPhones!). As things progressed she was able to eventually bring people on to make the apps even better – sometime to write the fancy code, someone to draw the incredible animations, someone to be the voice artist. All of these people spend many many hours creating apps and of course, they expect to be paid.

Apple company automatically takes 30% of the price of the app for its share (and of course they do it before anyone else gets paid). So…let’s say an app costs $10.00. Apple gets $3. The developer gets $7. Out of that 7, they must pay the coding person, the graphic artist, the voice artist, marketing costs, etc. If the app is authored by someone else (say yours truly), there’s a percentage that is paid to that person (yes, I receive a “royalty” for each app I author that is sold – trust me, I’m not about to quit my day job – when you figure the time spent in research and development I’m still in the hole for most of my apps), and hopes to still have enough to help pay the company costs and, oh I don’t know… eat.

I have no problem paying a fair price for a good app. Let’s take Smarty Ears Articulate it!  It has the ability work on any English phoneme plus blends/clusters in words, phrases, and sentences and costs $44.99. The app has flashcards as well as matching games, the newly updated release also has stories to read. It keeps data and can be used as a single/group. In addition, it has homework, a certificate of graduation, and the data can be emailed, printed, or sent to the therapy report center (see why I like this app so much??). If we compare it to the Jumbo Book of Articulation (just because it has pages that can be printed for homework and all the phonemes) – the JBA is $69.95. If we compare it to the industry “standard” flashcards to get close to the number of phonemes, it would be well over $300.00. Those flashcard “sets” only contain 32 words – where Smarty Ears has well over that many for each phoneme. We won’t even address the hassle of manually keeping data or using flashcards in groups that are working on different targets.

I truly do not understand why some districts (and SLPs) balk so badly at spending $45 when to get anything remotely similar would be closer to $400 (flashcards and homework book). Is the $45 spendy when it’s out of pocket? Of course it is…but you buy it once, it’s yours regardless of where you go and as long as you have your iPad, you have access to the app. For just over 10% of the cost of “traditional” artic materials, you have an easy to use app that keeps data for you. Seems like a no-brainer to me. Now, does that mean I go out and willingly pay $50 for an app? Of course not… (Remember, I’m a school-based SLP and a single parent of a teen – I’m not rolling in dough.)

When I hear about a new app I go to the developer website and I look for videos that show what the app does, I look at the research to see if it’s really supportive of it or just random citations that are thrown up, and I look for reviews. If I like what I see, I buy it. If I have questions, I contact the developer or ask around twitter. I also check out Yapp Guru and see what their reviewers have to say (btw, if you’re not a member – what are you waiting for? It’s a fabulous site, it’s free, and is a great resource to see what some SLPs that are in the trenches just like you have to say about apps. It’s a fairly new company, but run by SLPs, and I happen to know they have some INCREDIBLE things in the works and you will want to be in the know. You’re going to have to trust me on this…it’s big.)

My district does not buy my apps – so I know what it’s like to have to pay out of pocket…and I’ve paid hard-earned money for some not great apps…But I’ve also scored some incredible apps that do a LOT of things that I feel are well worth the price. Don’t forget, apps can also be used as tax deductions the same as other teaching materials. 🙂

I really recommend reading Sean Sweeney’s post on FIVES to evaluate apps for yourself. As always, what’s important to me may not be important to you.

I’d love to hear what you think…what do YOU look for in an app?

Until then…Adventure on!

3 thoughts on “What makes a good app?

  1. Mary, I love this post! Exactly what I am going to be looking at. Hopefully if there is some uniformity in the way we review apps then the ability to make decisions will be clearer.

  2. I completely agree with all of your points. I haven’t thought about checking out the videos before buying, though. I’ll definitely remember that for future purposes. While I’m very fortunate that my school system will buy apps for me, I want to make sure it’s worth their (and the taxpayer’s!) money.

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