Has your kid bugged you to let them download Sandbox Coloring? You’re probably not alone. The latest trend blowing up on the App Store is a new twist on the coloring book apps that have been popular for a couple of years. Now, instead of having users pick and choose their colors as before, this new group of coloring book apps – four of which recently snagged spots in the App Store’s Top 10 – are color-by-number books featuring retro-looking, pixel art designs.
Also unlike the previous lineup of coloring book apps, which were often marketed as “coloring books for adults,” the pixel art books appear to be an App Store trend driven by kids.
For starters, they’re coloring books – and while grown-ups have gotten in on that action in recent years, it’s a type of app that also largely appeals to children.
The pixel art coloring apps come up at the top of the App Store search results, when someone looks for keywords like “coloring” or “coloring book” – search terms kids are likely to enter.
More importantly, a signal the trend may be driven by a younger audience is that the new downloads appear to be coming from word-of-mouth, in many cases. This is mentioned repeatedly in the App Store reviews, where users say their friend told them about the app.
You can get a sense of the age of the user base by reading the App Store reviews, as well.
Clearly, a number of kids have shared their opinions on the matter of pixel art coloring, as in this sampling of reviews:
“My name is boobs I love boobs”
“Hello this is my favorite game I hope you make other games like this you guys are the best game makers”
“Have u ever had a McChicken”
“I love this game so much! I play it in school, at my house, in the car. What I thought you could add is where you can take a pucture and slide a bar from hard witch would have lots of number/blocks and easy witch less numbers/block. I love the new search bar. Plz add my idea”
“This app is so good you should get it rate it a 5555555 that’s what I did❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️it”
Just going out on a limb here, but these users are probably children.
And the kids can download.
According to data from Sensor Tower, the top four pixel art coloring apps have a combined 12 million downloads – half of which are from the U.S. alone – since the beginning of November. Roughly half of those downloads occurred this month.
While Sandbox Coloring may have started the trend, the app called Unicorn is in the lead for the month of December, narrowly beating Sandbox for the most downloads.
Also notable is that apps generate revenue through subscriptions, not one-time purchases as other “kid” apps have done in the past, when offering access to premium content for paying users. Instead, these apps offer options like weekly, monthly, and annual subscriptions. These promise features like the regular release of new images, ad removal, or the ability to unlock unlimited pictures, among other things.
We reached out to the app makers to confirm Sensor Tower numbers, but none responded. One of the published support emails didn’t even work.
Yep, that’s right – you’re not dealing with game makers like EA or Supercell here; but rather indie developers for the most part.
Sensor Tower estimates that Grigorkin has made over $500,000 this month alone from Sandbox’s in-app purchases.
Unicorn, from U.K. developer AppsYouLove, is in the lead by downloads at present, but not ranking. It made more than Sandbox in December – as much as $630,000, estimates Sensor Tower.
It doesn’t appear these developers are bothering with traditional social media marketing, thanks to their ability to ride the trend to get surfaced in App Store search, and from kids telling other kids. AppsYouLove’s Facebook Page, for example, has 3 Likes. That’s not a typo. Just 3. I guess the kids aren’t on Facebook.
Belarus-based Easybrain, which makes Pixel Art – Color by Number, hasn’t even bothered adding the app to its website or giving it a Facebook Page for it, the way it did with its prior success, Sudoku.
Only Color by Number seems to come from a larger company: TFG.co, a game developer in Latin America, with over 100 employees. (It’s also the maker of the popular coloring book for adults, Colorfy.) But Color by Number hasn’t made it to TFG.co’s site yet, either. It just has its own basic landing page.
Of course, App Store trends like these don’t always last. And in fact, the top four slipped a bit as of today, with only Sandbox retaining its top 10 ranking. Color by Number dropped to #12 and Unicorn is #17. Pixel Art, which was the #27 Top App yesterday, has moved over to the Top Games chart today, where it’s #8.
But these apps may again see a spike in a few days’ time – if kids unwrap new tablets and iPods at Christmas, that is.
As YouTube reels from a series of scandals related to its lack of policing around inappropriate content aimed at children, obscene comments on videos of children, horrifying search suggestions, and more, a new app called Jellies has arrived to offer parents a safer way to let their kids watch videos on mobile devices.
Jellies was built by Ken Yarmosh, founder of Savvy Apps, which has been making mobile apps for years, largely for clients like PBS, NFL, Homesnap, Navient, Levi’s, and others, in addition to passion projects like mobile calendar app Agenda and Today Weather.
As a parent, Yarmosh says he, too, was afflicted by the problems with YouTube that have recently come to light – namely, that allowing an algorithm to dictate what kids should watch will not lead to the safest environment.
“My oldest child is now five-and-a-half, but when he was two and three, he would love watching videos as many kids do,” explains Yarmosh. “YouTube became basically a non-starter because of the ads and him veering into things he shouldn’t very easily. Once YouTube Kids came out, I thought that would be the solution, so I kind of shelved the idea of Jellies,” he says.
But Yarmosh soon realized that YouTube Kids wasn’t working, either. His child was scared by videos for older kids (like one for “Hotel Transylvania 2”); he became obsessed with toy unboxings and egg surprises leading him to beg for toys; and he watched YouTube stars who demonstrated bad behavior, which impacted the way he acted.
These problems led to the creation of Jellies.
Its solution is complete human curation of video content, combined with a focus on videos that allow kids to explore their world, instead of being force-fed videos designed to promote consumerism, distraction, and bad attitudes. That is, the company’s selection of videos won’t include those with “ego-driven online ‘stars,’” the Jellies website proclaims, nor will it feature those where toys are unboxed or videos with inappropriate ads.
In fact, the app doesn’t include any ads at all.
The company instead chooses to generate revenue through a subscription model, charging $4.99/month for ongoing access to its video collection, which includes the addition of new video playlists on a weekly basis.
The video selection process is something the team at Jellies has thought about carefully. The company referenced The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guidelines and age-range data from San Francisco non-profit Common Sense Media, to help with its curation process. This helped Jellies to figure out not just which videos make sense for which age groups, but also which topics should be included in its kid-friendly app.
For example, Common Sense Media suggests that videos inspiring creativity and imagination are important for children as young as two, while those that demonstrate good interpersonal skills – like sharing or waiting your turn – should be shown to slightly older kids. Videos that teach good values, like those focused on personal responsibility and ethics, can be brought in around age 5, Common Sense Media says. And older kids can be encouraged to develop critical thinking skills.
As any parent with a YouTube-addicted kid can tell you, the videos children watch can also influence their behavior. The kids begin to imitate the smart aleck-y, sassy YouTube personalities they see online, much to parents’ annoyance. Jellies’ position is that the videos children watch should demonstrate better behavior for kids to mimic. That means there are no YouTube stars on Jellies, and its videos are more educational than sensational.
To create the initial round-up of videos featured in Jellies, video viewers watched thousands of hours of YouTube videos to make sure they fit the company’s criteria. There are now over 3,000 handpicked videos across over 100 topics, with 4-5 being added per week, including seasonal topics.
Some technology helps with video selection, but ultimately human curation is the final deciding factor here.
“While we are developing tech to help, notice computers are last in our list. Yes, we get that the industry believes scale is important and values that highly or solely. We believe safety and quality are more important than algorithms that scale as of now,” says Yarmosh.
Beyond the more careful curation of content compared to what’s found on YouTube, Jellies also introduces a number of controls that put parents in charge of what the kids get to watch. Though a “Parents Model” option, moms and dads can select their kids’ favorite topics for inclusion in the app – like trains, planes, baby animals, sea creatures, and the like, for example. They can also add educational content, like ABCs and Shapes, if they choose, and remove other content as they see fit.
Meanwhile, children use the app in a special “Kids Mode” that lets them move between topics and explore videos, giving them a sense of autonomy even though they’re viewing only parent-approved videos.
Though Jellies does feature videos for schoolagers, not just preschoolers, it may be hard to pull older kids out of YouTube’s world after having been immersed for years.
It may be easier for parents with younger kids to just present them with Jellies, and never make YouTube watching an option.
A number of apps over the years have tried to offer curated versions of YouTube, but Jellies is hitting at a crucial time – when things have gotten so bad on YouTube’s platform that brands are even freezing their advertising due to its unsafe nature for children. That could help the app find an audience.