• Tell us about your app.
Jakhu Stories is an app to make bedtime a special time for parents and children each night, with the aim to create a strong link between them. Includes a collection with more than 40 short, creative and educational stories beautifully illustrated. Narrations (in both English and Spanish) are vibrant, and parenting suggestions to squeeze the whole educative value of each story are included, along with details, microgames and options to make the story time even more appealing to children.
• Tell us about you / your team / your organization.
Cuentopia is the company behind a bilingual (Spanish/English) site devoted to teach values to children using modern creative and positive short stories, founded by Pedro Pablo Sacristan in 2008. Pedro Pablo is an aeronautical engineer that used to work at large technology corporations, until he decided to leave that world behind and started to write simple stories for kids (the ones he invented every night for his own children). The Spanish version of the site, cuentosparadormir.com, quickly became quite popular among teachers and parents, and many of his stories are now part of thousands of textbooks around the globe.
• What was the inspiration behind your game/app?
Jakhu Stories is the answer to many of our readers requesting us going mobile with an app. We didn’t just want to make our stories available: we wanted to create a whole different way to approach bedtime stories. So while following our usual creative and educational style with a large collection of stories, suggestions for parents and so on, we added great visuals and funny options, like the ability to personalize stories with children’s face or a roulette to randomly pick stories. In summary, Jakhu Stories is by far the best way to enjoy our stories.
• How did you first hear about Corona?
Well, it was just browsing. I was looking for a framework that allowed me to publish both to Google and Apple app stores. After realizing what a huge effort would be to develop the app in two different languages, I was sure my requeriments would never be so strange that Corona (or any other framework) could not meet them for both platforms. I admit I didn’t test many of such frameworks: once I installed Corona and reviewed the code of a couple demo projects I was so amazed by its easy of use that I knew that was the way to go.
• How is Corona being used by you / your team?
I am not actually a coder, so I use Corona from time to time, just to update Jakhu Stories and for some personal/maybe projects (specially prototyping, as create complex prototypes is really fast with Corona). I always use coronaviewer, wich speeds up a lot the latest stages of code testing on actual devices. Finally, although I have a couple iMacs, and I use them to upload the app to the Apple Store, I regularly use Windows to code.
• Tell us about the results you’ve achieved using Corona.
Well, I have been able to create a high quality and high rated app (on average over 4.5 stars with more than a thousand reviews) being a non developer with no experience in mobile development! I’ve also learned Lua just using Corona (I even didn’t know about Lua before trying Corona).
• Are there any specific features within Corona that you found particularly useful in the development process?
What impressed me the most the very first time I tried Corona is still one of its more useful features: working with graphics is really easy. You can achieve impressive effects, as well as any kind of image manipulation, with a couple of images and a few lines of code. Also, I love the simplicity of Lua and the power of its tables. No other coding language is easier for someone without a software engineering degree… I also like Coronaviewer: sometimes is a bit tricky to set it up, but it is very helpful to test apps in actual devices. Finally, one of the features I like the most about Corona, is the fact that I actually haven’t missed any feature.
• On average, how long does it take your team to develop a game/app with Corona?
As I do not develop apps on a regular basis, I can’t tell. But for any of my personal projects, I can get a working prototype in a couple of weeks. Dealing with all the details of a polished app, however, can take far more time, depending on the number of features and the level of detail.
• Do you have advice for others who are interested in mobile or desktop development?
Just try your ideas. When you see even the simplest prototype in action, you can get the “feeling” and know if that app will be something people will like.
• Would you recommend Corona to other companies, studios, and developers?
Sure! I’ve done many times yet! And I don’t limit my recommendation to pros: from my own experience, Corona lets you achieve cool things with little knowledge, and goes along with you while you learn to improve your initial ideas. That’s why I think it is also a great starting point for enthusiasts and other people with little coding experience. In fact, I’ve recommended Corona to some high school students (I am also a part time teacher at high school).
How it All Began…
• Tell us a bit about how you got started. If you’re working with a team, how did your team come together?
I hadn’t planned to code anything. I just wanted and app for my site; I knew I wanted one quite different to what you usually can see in stories for children apps, but I knew just that. However, when I went to coding companies, I discover that for them to be able to create the app, I had to give them a very -exhaustive- detailed description of what I would like. And that would also imply a very close long term relationship (and cost), as any changes to the app after it was delievered would require additional briefings… I wanted the freedom to introduce changes depending on people’s reactions and feedback, so I realized that coding the app myself was the only option, taking into account my budget limitations. Anyway, I love to learn new things and have the itch on mobile development, so it was not difficult to convince myself 🙂
• How long did it take?
As I coded mostly in my spare time along with several sprints, the app took longer than I expected to get ready for production. Developing the 1.0 version took about a year. Developing the first working prototype was quite faster: about 2-3 full time weeks.
• Did you need outside funding? If so, how did you get it?
No. Actually, taking into account the goals I had in mind with the app, one of the requirements was to minimize investment.
• What were your biggest challenges?
Though starting from scratch was challenging, and I had to learn about every aspect of app developing and publishing, the most painfull aspect of the whole process was debugging. It is quite difficult to test every interaction combination (specially when little children get their hands on the app!), and new bugs appeared around every corner, delaying publishing date over and over. In fact detecting bugs has been difficult also after publishing the app, and some od those unknown bugs severely affected the app for long time… and we didn’t even know it!
“Working with graphics is really easy. You can achieve impressive effects, as well as any kind of image manipulation, with a couple of images and a few lines of code. Also, I love the simplicity of Lua and the power of its tables. No other coding language is easier for someone without a software engineering degree…”
• How did you or your team come up with the inspiration for what you’ve created?
I just though about the kind of stories app I would like to show to my own children almost every nigth. Something that could teach them without boring them, and made them willing to spend some time with me. Then I just had to remove all the bells and wisthles I couldn’t afford to include in the app. However, having the idea of that perfect app helped me to come with inexpensive ways to include several features that at first sight looked unaffordable.
• What have you done to make your app unique among the vast array already out there?
The way you select the stories and use them is really unique in this kind of app: there is a roulette to randomly select the stories every night, and children get excited about it all the time; it’s really funny. Also, it is quite unique the way you can use a picture of your children, add a costume, and see him or her starring the story.
• What is your creative process like?
Hmmm, not sure if it is a process… but I try to create things that delight and surprise myself; something I would like to spend time on. As I am just a big kid, and also an involved parent, that helps me surprise and deligth those two groups my app and stories are directed to. If I really don’t get excited and don’t care , why would anyone?
Released Into the Wild
• How do you monetize your app? In-app advertising? In-app purchases? Other? Do you feel this is the best strategy?
As the app was directed to children, and ads are not always safe for children, I decided to avoid ads. So the app has some in-app purchases. Honestly, monetization is one of the weakest aspects of the app. I am not sure if advertising would perform much better, but I think the current monetization strategy could be preventing the app to grow faster. In fact, currently I am considering two options: a) center monetization around advertising and b) remove any monetization at all and consider the app a social/marketing investment.
• Do you think you’ve succeeded? If so, how do you tell?
On a profit and loss only approach: not at all. Although keeping the app running provides a small profit, it is not enough to consider large investments or improvements. However, profit and loss was not the only goal: the main goal actually was related to make an impact. And the number of installs and the feedback I get from users around the globe confirms that Jakhu Stories is helping to make a positive impact in the lifes of many children and parents. And that is a social success, no doubt. That’s why I am still considering to release the app with minimal restrictions.
• What top 3 pieces of advice would you give to other aspiring app developers?
- Look for the best ideas, try to get what people would like the most. This way you won’t need a bunch of features to create something people love.
- Try your ideas. It is difficult to asses the actual value of something until you see it in action. Trying is also a great way to discover ways to improve and polish an app.
- Try to get a process in place to detect errors and get users feedback. Most users never complain about errors in apps (and never tell you what they love, either), and sometimes an unknown error can severely impact your app.