I fist had the idea for an alphabet-learning app back when my kids were young enough they could actually need such an app. My youngest one is now about to enter Middle School. It's been a long process.
I've always liked steampunk art and wanted to somehow incorporate it into a kids app. From the start, I had this idea of mechanical Pods that would open to reveal the letter inside them. Each Pod would be unique and would match the color and theme of the "mechanimal" that appeared alongside each letter of the alphabet. Hence, AlphaPod!
It was true then and it's still true now: all alphabet-learning apps are pretty much undistinguishable from one another. They have the same functionality and worse, they all (with a handful of exceptions) look the same. AlphaPod had to be different. It had to be fun and educational for little kids, but entertaining for the not-so-little; something kids would love, but adults would also enjoy and appreciate; the art had to be unique and fun but also beautiful, approachable but not dumbed down, something you wouldn't mind hanging on your kid's wall or even have it on the cover of your own iPhone case or on a pillow.
By the end of 2018, I had finalized all the art for each letter – and it was shortlisted for the prestigious World Illustration Awards held annually in London – and I had already set up a print-on-demand store to sell AlphaPod merchandise.
All I needed to do then was design the app, create some games for it, and develop it. And to make it cost-effective – but even a more daunting project – I decided I wouldn't hire outside help, which meant I had to work on the UX and visual design, ideating on the games, and the development of the app, all by myself. All while working as a full-time Creative Director for an app development firm in Brooklyn. Easy.
Needless to say, more than a year went by and my original goal of launching an app was going nowhere. Then the pandemic happened.
A few weeks before the Covid lockdown started I was laid off. After the initial shock – and as I began to look for another job – I decided I would start working on the AlphaPod app and launch it by the start of the school year. Given my past experience, the UX/UI and visual design phase and game ideation were quick and quite enjoyable. Within weeks all the screens, games and flows were laid out.
I knew from the get-go that I wanted to create an app that was universal for iOS and Mac. It had to have fun, interactive games, and also wanted to add an AR component. Given these requirements, I had several options: I could create the app using Unity 2D or Swift (which meant hiring a developer) or I could create it myself with the skills and knowledge I had of HTML/CSS front-end development.
Hiring an expensive developer was out of the question. I could try to learn Unity or Swift but that would be time consuming, not necessarily cheap, and not very practical. So in the end I decided to create a hybrid web app that uses Mac Catalyst for some of the components like the AR tool and that would facilitate creating a Mac version as well.
I built the app using Tumult Hype, an HTML5 creating software that allows, using java script, to create fairy compacted interactive applications. I already had experience with Hype – having created multiple rich prototypes in the past for different clients – so the developing of the basic framework for each letter was slow, but not particularly difficult. Learning Apple's new Reality Composer and creating 3D elements for each letter was incredibly fun and rewarding.??Making sure the app was responsive for the different devices and integrating it with the ARKit and Mac Catalyst was a bit more complicated endeavor. But after six months – requiring extensive research, multiple trials and errors, hours searching in developers blogs for the right answers – I was able to single-handedly produce an Universal iOS app with original art, fun interactive games, a functional and interactive AR component, AND make it look distinctive from every other alphabet-learning in the market. Plus, it was live before schools started!