After letting his two young children play with and watch movies on his Apple (AAPL) iPhone, Arizona game developer Justin John Sullivan wondered if he could provide them more educational fare. Thus, the first applications or apps for what Sullivan calls the "toddler distraction edutainment" market were born.
The premise behind these apps is simple: keeping inquisitive and easily bored toddlers occupied while Mommy and Daddy have to do grown-up stuff like wait in line at the bank or take a shower. Young children like navigating through the phone's icons. My two-year-old has figured out how to play YouTube clips on my phone. Grown-ups need to be distracted as well, which explains why the Wall Street Journal recently released an iPhone App that, unlike its website, has all free content. (Update: DailyFinance released it's own iPhone App on April 20).
Having young kids use an iPhone is not surprising, considering cell phones are an increasingly common feature of life for elementary schoolers. Today's teenagers spend countless hours a day texting their friends, even if they are sitting next to each other. Sullivan, though, urges parents to use common sense.
"I don't know if I would recommend handing a phone to a one-year-old or a two-year old and walking away," said Sullivan, who owns 3DAL LLC with his business partner, Bruce Platti.
Apple picked 3DAL to be part of the original launch of the iPhone. Executives of the computer company hadn't even considered toddlers when they designed the smart phone whose launch made gadget lovers drool in anticipation.
"Apple was very selective," Sullivan said. "Apple did not have an [app] category for children under four. I am actually positive they had not anticipated that market."
After the iPhone debut of "Preschool Adventure," a flood of angry reviews to Apple's App Store on iTunes alleging that the game, which teaches colors, numbers and shapes, was a corrupting influence on children. Apple has removed these comments and the criticism has died down.
Apple, which guards secrets more closely than the CIA, wouldn't let Sullivan disclose specific information about sales. He did make it clear that toddler iPhone apps are not a pathway to easy riches.
"You'll be very fortunate to have more than 100 downloads of your toddler app in a day because it's such a competitive market now," he said. "Even the best toddler apps will probably not make someone a fortune, but if there is quality and heart in the development of your app, then it should earn enough money to at least supplement other sources of income, just realize that it's a very competitive, niche market."