A Cry for Help: Some Children’s App Publishers Are Getting “App Fatigue”

Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted in the June 2016 issue of Children’s Technology Review. Subscribe to get access to the latest articles


Select the image to watch a video of the panel.

What is the “state of the children’s app” in 2016? It’s not so good, according to the traditional annual “State of the Children’s App” panel, held last month in California during Dust or Magic AppCamp.

The panel included some of the best minds in the space: Pierre Abel of L’Escapadou; Björn Jefferey of Toca Boca; Dan Russell-Pinson (Stack the States and others); Ariella Lehrer of Legacy Games; Mark Schlichting of Noodleworks; Valerie Touze of Edoki Academy; and Shazia Makhdumi from Google Play.

Watch the panel at https://youtu.be/RW2BgwhFDNU 

Despite incredible improvements in the underlying technology, namely cheaper, faster tablets and more robust Wi-Fi, the business of making and distributing quality children’s apps is getting harder. “It just might be” said Toca Boca leader Björn Jefferey, “that there is no viable business model.” Jefferey was referring specifically to the creation and distribution of high quality, paid apps, with no advertising, subscriptions or IAP (In App Purchases). Jefferey backed up his comment with references to some industry statistics and the fact that he had just spend the past 12 months looking for a new corporate home for his acclaimed studio (Toca Boca/Sago Mini is now part of Spin Master Toys).

“If we make our apps free, we can’t make a living, and we can’t make the apps our customers love.”
Toca Boca leader, Björn Jefferey

APP FATIGUE is setting in… “There are so many apps now. If you’re not featured in an app store, you’re invisible” said Piere Abel. “Counting on being featured by Apple or Google Play is not a good way to build a business.” That’s when the term “App Fatigue” started popping up in the conversation. For parents and teachers, app fatigue means getting tired of all the gimmicks, like downloading “free” content after being misled by inflated app store ratings, or sticky subscription processes. These apps might include age gates that are too easy to jump, recurring subscriptions that might automatically charge a credit card, or the now very common practice of teasing children with fun-looking extras that cost real money. A case in point “Barbie Dreamtopia – Magical Hair” which is currently being featured by Apple as a “New App We Love.”

Apple seems to equally “love” onboarding children toward the revenue generating locks that appear in apps like these. Another challenge faced by app designers is that they are now competing with the millions of cute kitten videos waiting in YouTube. For publishers, app fatigue means figuring out how to pay for a team of the artists, coders and musicians needed to create quality products, only to get a dribble of a return.

Valerie Touze, of Edoki Academy, has tried many approaches. She said “we’re looking for other ways to make money. This includes toys, licenses and subscriptions.” Dan Russell-Pinson told the group “you might conclude that we should make our apps free, because that would be good for the customer. Right? No. Because if we make our apps free, we can’t make a living, and we can’t make the apps customers love. I feel like if a customer doesn’t think my app is worth $2 I don’t want them. But if they do, I want to give them their money’s worth.”


  • The market seems to be supporting small price increases among trusted brands, like Stack the States 2. Parents are now more willing to spend $2.99 or $3.99 for an app from a publisher they trust.
  • Bjorn Jefferey reminded the group that the installed base is increasing every day. “There will be a billion more new smart devices looking for apps over the next four years. This is an incredible macro trend, because we know that these screens will be a child’s first screen.”
  • One area of concensus that there needs to be more support from app stores, especially Apple, Google and Amazon. They need to understand that dealing with children isn’t always about increased revenue, and that their stores must do a better job helping customers to find and identify “premium” one-time cost apps. And perhaps apps that are “free” could really be called what they really are: samples.

One thing IS for sure, App Fatigue is real and many small publishers could use a hand.


Buckleitner, W. (2016) A Cry for Help: Some Children’s App Publishers Are Getting “App Fatigue” Children’s Technology Review June 2016, page 2, 4

Filed in: Libraries, News, Publishers, Research, Schools Tags: ,

Get Updates

Share This Post

Related Posts

3 Responses to "A Cry for Help: Some Children’s App Publishers Are Getting “App Fatigue”"

  1. Karen Nemeth says:

    What if a few of those fatigued app developers might be energized by taking a new direction to develop some apps for the population that nobody is paying attention to? If there are 11 million young children in the U.S. who are dual language learners and nobody is designing for them, that leaves a field of millions wide open for a few great developers to change the game. Sure, it’s tiring to keep pounding the same pavement, trying over and over again to get a small share of the same big market. I offer this suggestion: break out of your rut and come over to the language diversity side. There are millions of families and teachers who are not buying existing early childhood apps because of the language/culture barrier. You could be the one that paves the way for a whole new share of the market and you could take credit for opening the door to learning for millions of young children who often get shortchanged. And maybe funders and investors would be so amazed at your unique vision and social justice focus that they would compete with each other for your attention. I hope you’ll think about it because I’m tired too. I’m tired of saying to thousands of teachers, librarians and parents every year that there are no good apps to support young children who are dual language learners. They’re waiting and they’ll be really glad to see something new!

  2. buckleit says:

    Great comment Karen!! But it might be that we’re at a point where a publisher can’t justify the ROI (return on investment) necessary to get into the ELL space. We need to flag the successful (profitable) examples, for sure.

Leave a Reply

Submit Comment

© 2018 Children's Technology Review. All rights reserved.