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Restatement of Idea

In essence, our group's idea was a system that would both help teach children to write the letters of the alphabet and keep them entertained while doing so.

Our group brainstorm can be found here.

List of Competitors

1. Leapfrog's Scribble & Write

2. Leapfrog's AlphaPet Explorer

3. Leapfrog's Tag Junior Book: ABC Animal Orchestra

4. Leapfrog's Letter Factory DVD

5. ABC Animals for the iPhone

6. ABC Tracer for the iPhone

7. Letter Tracer preschool letters writing practice for the iPhone

8. ABC Letters Tracing for the iPhone (scroll to Letter Tracing)

9. Letters A to Z for the iPhone

10. ABC Letters for the iPhone


Scribble & Write

Target User Group: The Scribble & Write also targets parents of children learning the alphabet; the website suggests use by children from 3 to 5 years old. This is essentially the same set of parents and their children that our application targets.

Functionality: The Scribble & Write's primary feature is a drawing surface under which LEDs light up to show children what to draw with an attached stylus. It starts with a few simple shapes to familiarize the child, but can be set to use alphabet letters as well. Additionally, it plays audio corresponding to letters when buttons are pressed. Both of these functions are goals of our iPhone app; in addition, however, we intend to increase engagement through the connect the dots and coloring book rewards for successfully writing letters. It also integrates with Leapfrog's Learning Path, a system that tracks use of Leapfrog products and corresponding learning for a child across various platforms as they grow, a feature our application lacks as we currently have only the one product.

Usability: The Scribble & Write is small enough to be easy for the children to use comfortably and to be portable enough for long trips, something the iPhone affords as well. While the reviews are mostly positive, two major gaps in the device's usability appeared: first, the device provides no feedback on writing, and second, there are problems with the writing surface being difficult to write on or simply poor quality. As an iPhone app, we have the advantage of the iPhone's screen for writing on and are capable of examining user input and providing feedback on the writing as well as the aforementioned rewards for success; furthermore, instead of an LED dot display, we can show instructions in the form of more familiar workbook-style patterns to trace, with real feedback.

AlpaPet Explorer

Target User Group: The AlphaPet Explorer also targets parents of children learning the alphabet, though it reaches slightly younger; the website suggests use by children from 24 months to 5 years old.

Functionality: The Explorer has several modes, each of which function differently, but make use of both audio capabilities and a keyboard with all the letters in order from top-left to bottom-right. One mode plays audio of the letter's sound and has the child press the corresponding letter; another is similar, but with the letter's name; both keep score for progress tracking. A third lets children play the alphabet song, so long as the press the letters in the correct order. However, complaints include a lack of lower-case letters and only a single sound for vowels, rather than a representation of the range they normally have. While good for letter recognition, this device doesn't include any writing practice as our proposed app would; the use of audio prompts without, rather than just in addition to, traceable letters as an optional feature is clearly one that we will need to pay attention to.

Usability: The Explorer's volume can be set, conveniently for parents; the keyboard is small enough for both easy use by a child and portability, and the frame is durable and rugged. Additionally, especially because this device is targeted at the lower range of the age group in question, the sound effects and music seem sufficient to keep children engaged; with the upper ranges, however, we still anticipate our coloring book rewards being a valuable feature.

ABC Animal Orchestra

Target User Group: The tag book also targets parents of children learning the alphabet, but focuses on the lower end of the age group for children; according to the leapfrog site it is for children 24 months to 4 years old.

Functionality: The tag book's pages show a letter with an animal and an instrument whose names start with the same letter (B includes a baboon playing a bassoon, for example). The use of a similar technique was part of our plan for presenting letters, though we hadn't come up with a specific theme for the words. However, this is just the basic book; demonstrates a great deal about the Tag system that the book is compatible with. The tag reader is a pen-like device that can 'click' on the page to read a word aloud; a 'button' on top of the page allows for reading the whole page, and a set of 'buttons' at the bottom allow for interactive games with audio based on the elements of the page. Furthermore, the reader has a computer interface that allows it to integrate with Leapfrog's Learning Path, a system that tracks use of Leapfrog products and corresponding learning for a child across various platforms as they grow. Ultimately, while the core alphabet theme is the same as with our app, the book has more focus on words and sound recognition and less focus on writing; the two both provide an entertaining learning experience tied to the alphabet, but the features are largely separated.

Usability: As the fundamental aspects of the device are a small child's book and a large pen-like reader, it is both durable and portable, and easy for children to use. The reading is tied more to words on their own than to complete statements, making the intonation sometimes confusing. The pen can also only be tied to five or six books at once, despite a library of nearly twenty; this can be confusing for children attempting to read a book that their pen doesn't recognize, as tracking which books it knows and changing them accordingly can be difficult. These problems are, however, fundamentally tied to the format the information is presented in, and have no real analogue to 'fix' for an iPhone app.

Letter Factory (DVD)

Target User Group: Letter Factory is marketed towards the parents of children from 24 months old to 5 years old who are learning the alphabet, much like our proposed app.

Functionality: Letter Factory is mostly just a video with sounding out of letters and singalong songs. While it provides a focus on letter recognition and sounds, it is inaccurate in some sounds (describing L as "ull" for example, and missing long vowels) and reviews seem mixed on whether it includes or misses lower-case letters. It also has no writing, of course.

Usability: While watching a DVD is an easy task, children may lack the attention span; the comments were almost overwhelmingly positive on this regard, but compared to the previously mentioned leapfrog products whose negative reviews focused on non-functional devices, not children losing interest, it still had a high number of users losing focus on the video. Portability is another limitation; portable DVD players often have limited battery lives, are more inconvenient for small children, and are far from common, and in-vehicle DVD players still limit portability and are also far from standard. Our reward system helps retain the focus of the children, and the iPhone solves portability problems without either difficulty for the child or severe battery limitations.

ABC Animals

Target User Group: ABC Animals is listed as a featured app "for moms and dads"; it is rated 4+, but as that is the lowest age rating for the phone and the next rating is 9+, that doesn't provide much of a window into the target users; however, it seems safe to say that it aims at the same general age of users as the previous devices.

Functionality: The application is essentially a flashcard app with animals and letters. According to the ABC Animals website, "Audio accompanies each card providing a letter name, associated animal name and the phonetics for each letter. Double tap any card to flip it over and practice tracing both uppercase and lowercase letters right on the screen of your iPhone. Shake to erase." However, it doesn't appear to provide actual feedback on tracing, nor does it offer anything other than the tracing for interactivity to keep children engaged.

Usability: Reviews praise the interface; simple flicks to the left or right move to the next card, and children seem to grasp this quickly and easily. The only complains seem to be the odd choice of animals for several letters, like dragonfly for d (the dr sound being distinct from the usual d sound) or elephant for e (el better approximating and so associating with the letter l). Better choices of pictures and sounds would avoid the problem for our app.

ABC Tracer

Target User Group: Much like all the things reviewed so far, ABC Tracer is targeted to parents of children learning the alphabet, representing the same age groups as above.

Functionality: From the website:

ABC Tracer: 1) Animates and shows how to write alphabets with storkes[sic] in the right order on the traditional red-blue guide lines. 2) Provides fun feedback of right and wrong strokes. 3) Has lots of fun activities - Touching the image below the alphabet makes it animate - Connect the alphabet dots - Pop the randomly arranged ballons in alphabetical order (re-inforces learning while having fun) - fun Alphabet song

Its features and objectives very closely mirror our own; however, while we emphasize providing the more fun activities like connecting the dots and coloring the resulting picture as a reward and as reinforcement for completing the letter tracing, this app provides them as simply a separate mode.

Usability: Reviews question the choice of phonetic sounds for the letters as well as the picture choice (a motorcycle for B, because it's a 'bike', or a 'nightingale' for N, more recognizable as a bird). In terms of actual navigation and use of the tracing, reviews don't seem to either highlight good features or complain about any that are lacking, save for the ability to return to the main menu from the tracing screen and the ability to select only lower-case or capital letters for tracing. Choosing better pictures and sounds would help avoid the problems with this app.

Letter Tracer preschool letters writing practice

Target User Group: Again, this app is aimed at parents of children from 3-5 years old, to be used by those children.

Functionality: The application is fairly simple, providing either an outline to trace in or a picture in the top left of the screen to copy; it also provides a voice over pronouncing the letter's name. A simple control panel offers three voices and silence, as well as a volume control; pen thickness and color can also be decided, along with lowercase or capital letters and which of the two tracing modes to use. It provides no feedback and lacks the reward system our app focuses on, and has no indication of stroke orders for the characters.

Usability: The Letter Tracer's interface is easy to navigate, but doesn't provide clear steps to write the characters; the reflections/shadows for the letters, while perhaps aesthetically pleasing, also interfere in the ability of children to recognize the character and replicate it when using the non-tracing mode. All of these provide increased barriers to learning, especially when coupled with the inherent barrier of the attention span of the children using the application, which

ABC Letters Tracing

Target User Group: The app is marketed towards parents of children of ages leading up to preschool, much like the other competitors to our application, coincidentally marketed towards the same parents.

Functionality: The app provides a picture of an animal and the capital and lower-case letter first in the animal's name to be traced. The letters have strokes clearly marked one at a time with a starting dot and an arrow to follow; tracing produced sparks in addition to the drawn line, and the app provides feedback and positive reinforcement with phrases like "Good Job!" Letter order can also be shuffled. However, it lacks the reward system integral to our app, and one of three substantive reviews on the iTunes store complains about the child getting bored.

Usability: The app lacks a clear button to start a letter over, and the easy mode toggle (which controls whether children can try again after incorrect strokes) is located where it is easy to accidentally change modes. The app moves between letters automatically, and switching between shuffle and alphabetical order is easy. However, the inability to separate capital and lower-case letters makes teaching one set at a time difficult. Our app would let users focus on one set, provide a clear function, and always allow re-tracing if the user wants to (and would require it for incorrect letters for access to the connect the dots/coloring book).

Letters A to Z

Target User Group: The app appears to be targeted to parents with children in the lower end of our age range, given its emphasis on animations and limited functionality.

Functionality: has a video which demonstrates the basic functionality. A simple drag switches letters; tapping the letter gives audio for the letter, and tapping the image gives audio naming it, then an animation with some sound effects. A simple menu allows parents to set the app to lower-case or capital letters and to turn sound on and off. It is entertaining and engaging to the younger users, but lacks writing, one of the emphases of our proposed application; this app focuses on letter recognition, instead.

Usability: The simplicity of the app also makes it incredibly easy to use; simple drags and taps are the only presses required for the children. There isn't much to criticize; children understand it quickly and enjoy it. It is a good example of the KISS policy, and one we should keep in mind as we plan our app.

ABC Letters

Target User Group: The app targets parents of small children just beginning to learn their ABCs, likely at the younger portions of the 2-5 age range that seems about standard for products in this category.

Functionality: Example Video The application provides three blocks with either standard woodblock images or animal images and names a letter; the child chooses the correct letter and gets to replay the sound or continue to a new set of letters. It is aimed at improving letter recognition, not writing, and has no features in that regard; furthermore, the only reward for success is new questions.

Usability: The application has two core flaws in usability. First, and most importantly, reviews indicate that it freezes and crashes frequently; this is a problem that might be trivial for an adult, but can be confusing and unsolvable to a child until they've learned to restart the application, and breaks the flow of use regardless. Second, the animal blocks include the animals covering part of or framing the pictures, which at least one reviewer's child found confusing.


Clearly, this application is entering well-trod ground, with many competitors offering similar features. There is a definite focus on character recognition and sound over writing, but even writing letters has numerous products in competition. However, the combination of using alternate activities to add fun to the process is somewhat limited; the Scribble & Write and the ABC Animals application for the iPhone come closest to providing this, but our application provides the unique use of those extra entertaining options as rewards for successful tracing of letters, not just a different set of activities the child can choose, providing incentive to focus on learning the letters. There are, however, elements of design that our competitors demonstrate that we should learn from, primarily the value of a simple, clean interface. The applications most praised for ease of use in reviews are those with simple dragging gestures for switching letters and basic tap gestures for most other functions; obviously tracing will require a more complex gesture, but one that the GUI should clearly indicate and afford. Also, the danger of using sound or picture choices that might seem clear to an adult but would be confusing to a child has been pointed out clearly; it was one of the most common complaints about the other devices and applications. Ultimately, our idea is not breaking brand new ground in teaching children ABCs, but it combines various strengths of the existing products and uses its features in a distinct way that should improve motivation and learning among even children not enthused by the idea of learning their ABCs.

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