The Hall family made an iPhone app for our kids called Little Dialers, that you and your kids can use too, for free. Here’s the behind the scenes backstory, in case you were curious. As a prologue, it turns out that there really aren’t any good Smartphone apps out there to teach kids how to get a hold of you in case you’re ever separated. And when I say there aren’t any good apps, I mean that when I did a Google search two months ago, there weren’t any apps popping up in the top ten results at all…
Is this not 2011?
So our four year old daughter is in pre-school and comes home one day with a paper cut out of a rotary phone. That’s how she’s supposed to learn her phone number. First off, it’s a rotary phone… No kidding. I’m 33 and I barely know what a rotary phone is or looks like. Second, it’s made out of paper. And third, it’s only seven numbers. Now this last one may not be a big deal for some people, but my wife and I picked up cell phones back in 2001, when we lived in Montgomery, AL. I was in the Air Force, and we’ve moved around some since that time, but we’ve always kept the same number out of convenience. We are now living in a suburb of Louisville, KY and really only ever use our cell phones. Plus, they’re always with us at all times, which is key when someone is trying to get a hold of either of us, like say our kids in an emergency.
My wife and I didn’t feel that our daughter should be forced to learn a useless number from a piece of construction paper in the shape of an extinct artifact that she may never even see over her lifetime.
I honestly didn’t think much of the paper phone, other than there was no way I was going to be able to teach anybody their phone number with it. Then one cold, January morning, my wife mentioned that we really needed to start teaching our daughter a phone number that she could call in case there was ever a reason for her to need to call. I did a search online and, as mentioned above, didn’t find anything.
Being that I have a decade of experience in software, web and now mobile development, I thought it would be a cool family project to design and build our own app that would just do one thing: teach our kids their mom and dad’s phone number through visual, auditory and tactile stimulation.
Thus, the idea of Little Dialers emerged.
I was able to convince a buddy that it would be a fun little diversion for him, to take on building this app for us on the side, and we estimated a timeline and a budget. Then I set out to design it myself. If you’re thinking about doing something like this yourself, I encourage it, but remember that complexity equals time and time equals money. The hardest part of building an app, even one with only three screens, is keeping it dead simple. That’s because the sky is literally the limit when it comes to whiz-bang features that can be added. So take these quotes to heart, and take the time to make things simple.
Once I finished designing the screens and functionality, we looked at it as a family, made some tweaks, and sent the requirements document and creative off to my developer friend. When it was all said and done, it took 17 hours to build, test and fix over the course of three weekends. Seven days after we submitted Little Dialers to Apple, our App had been approved and was downloadable from within the App Store.
And here we are today.
What We Want Out Of This
My wife and I did this primarily for the journey. It was definitely a fun ride coming up with the idea and building something to fill a need together as a family. Our kids are huge iPhone/iPad fans, and I’d be lying if I didn’t also mention that it’s an ego boost to have your kid use and enjoy something you built for them, on a platform that has completely captured their engagement. Our daughter has been using Little Dialers all week, five minutes at a time, and is now able to type in my wife’s cell phone number without help, which is exactly what we wanted…
The truth is though, building the product is only the beginning of the journey. We’ve seen Little Dialers work and think it can work for your child, too. It would be great if people used our app and shared their story with us. Maybe it helped your child or maybe it didn’t. Now that Little Dialers is out there, we’re interested in learning what you think about it, either way. You can let us know what you think by downloading the app, rating it, or leaving a comment here or on the tumblr account I set up to support the app. I’ll also be linking to anything written about the app there, to keep a record of the journey.
We hope you like Little Dialers, as much as we liked making it. Here’s to all of our kids, and the awesome, digital world they are growing up in today.