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Print-book purists take note: Apple recently announced that the world's 200 million iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch users have downloaded more than 15 billion apps from its 425,000-app collection. According to the company, books are among its most popular offerings (games are #1). To shed light on Apple's approval process, we turned to two well-regarded app publishers, who discuss recent titles that earned a quick "yes" from Steve Jobs's magic kingdom.

Oh, the Thinks You Can Think!

"You can think any THINK that you wish...." In this case, what app developer Oceanhouse Media wished for—and created—was a digital version of the 1975 Dr. Seuss classic Oh, the Thinks You Can Think!, which was among the top 25 titles in the iPad book chart within the first 48 hours.

Oceanhouse is the leading publisher of children's apps, with 71 of them in Apple's store. Oceanhouse licenses the rights to existing children's picture books and then develops custom software to bring them to life on hand-held screens. Think marks the midway point (22 of 44) of Oceanhouse's projects to create an app for every title that Dr. Seuss both wrote and illustrated. Here's how company president Michel Kripalani and his team (six full-time employees and a dozen or two freelancers) spent a few months creating the $3.99 app, from brainstorming to seeing it arrive in the App Store on June 21.

The Development: "Digital publishing is really a software play," Kripalani says. "You have to know what you're doing. You have to have updates and customer support. You have to have proper code management systems in place." Oceanhouse's proprietary "omBook" software, designed and written by veterans of the CD-ROM and videogame business, drives many of its apps including the Dr. Seuss titles and others by Mercer Mayer and the Berenstains. Think, as with other apps, began with brainstorming among a few employees. "Was there something special we could do with this app to take it to the next level?" asked Kripalani. Instead of immediately showing a "pan and scan" of the entire original pages, the designers decided to start each page with a minimalist scene—such as an unadorned hill—before showing "the full canvas of what Ted {Geisel] was drawing," Kripalani says. Then young readers gradually build the rest of the picture, layer by layer, by tapping on dancing question marks and seeing four to six new images appear, one by one, on the page.

Next, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, which controls the licensing to the Dr. Seuss franchise, gave the developers digital images of Think's original pages, keeping the file sizes small. "Large apps can be troublesome to download and are often the first apps to be pushed off a device when the user runs out of space and is looking to make room," says Kripalani. Then came the voiceover recording. Typically, Kripalani's wife, Karen, a former actress, does a casting call or authors themselves read their own stories. But in this case, the team decided her own voice would work. "She can deliver in that motherly, kindergarten voice, and we don't have to direct her," says Kripalani. Karen recorded both the story and the words kids hear when they touch an element in a picture. Sound effects are also added, such as rain in The Cat in the Hat. In Think, kids hear whizzing as a cherry flies across the screen and a plop as it lands on top of whipped cream. Kids can choose to watch the story, movie style, on "auto play," which means a narrator reads everything aloud and the pages flip automatically. They can also touch "read to me" or "read by myself."

Layout comes next. Oceanhouse developers know they can't simply reproduce the original pages of a book. "Think of your average Dr. Seuss book; if you were to take that page and shrink it down for your iPhone, it would be so small you could never read it," notes Kripalani. The print Think is 40 pages; the app is 83.

Oceanhouse creates its apps in a format that works for both the iPhone and iPad, a tricky process that Oceanhouse keeps secret, since it's a big part of the appeal of their stories. "You're a mom, and you just bought this app for your son on your iPhone because you were at Starbucks, and now you got home, and you want to put it on your iPad," says Kripalani. "Do you want to buy it again? No."

The In-House Testing:

In lieu of corporate focus groups, friends and family (Kripalani and his wife have two daughters, one 2 1/2 years old and the other 14 months old) take a look once the app is built.

In Think, readers aren’t meant to turn to go to the next page until they tap all the question marks on the current one. In testing, Oceanhouse realized that readers needed more guidance, so it added a visual hint (the printed word “swipe”) when it was time to move on.

Everyone in-house needs to think the app is exceptional, say Kripalani. “We won’t release an app until we believe the majority of the customers in the world are going to give it five stars,” he adds. Only after the internal thumbs-up will Oceanhouse show it to Dr. Seuss Enterprises, which typically recommends tiny tweaks.

The Problems: Even though Oceanhouse is a veteran of the app business, introducing new features can be tricky. "Writing code can be a lot like puzzle solving." For example, Dr. Seuss Enterprises wanted to change a page of Think with 16 candy cane-like trees. Its idea: kids should be able to tap on any of the 231 stripes and see the word "red" or "white." "We just want to go the extra mile," says Greg Uhler, Oceanhouse's app development director. "If that's what they want, and we can do it, we need to do it."

Another challenge: creating the sound of the Bloogs—ghostly, jellyfish-like flying creatures that hover over black water. "They could easily be interpreted as being very scary to a young child," says Kripalani. "We spent a lot of time and did multiple revisions to get the sounds right." In the end, we arrived at sounds that are more cute, fun and playful but still feel very much appropriate for the images.”

The Approval: Typically Oceanhouse—which releases about two apps on the Apple store each week—gets approval in about eight days. "It's really straightforward," says Kripalani. "They're looking for a well-written app that's not going to crash." To get Apple's blessing, apps must pass its strict rules about pornography and violence—though that's not typically a problem with titles for young readers. While Apple has guidelines for submission information regarding icons, text, and screen shots, publishers supply the price that customers will pay as well as the on-sale date. For Think, Oceanhouse decided to stick with its traditional $3.99, which still put it into the premium-priced category, something that Kripalani calls "kind of crazy" since it delivers more than the print book that costs twice as much.

Although most customers tend to shop for apps on the weekend, Oceanhouse typically chooses Tuesdays for on-sale dates. "It's convenient for us," says Kripalani. It gives them time to return from the weekend and get out press releases. "It's not about day one sales," says Kripalani. Every Thursday Apple refreshes its App Store and features titles in its coveted "new and noteworthy section. "Every Thursday we're crossing our fingers," says Kripalani. Think did grab a spot in that section on its release, and shot up to #7 in the store.

To boost sales, Oceanhouse does its own promotion as well. With the Seuss titles, anyone running a Seuss app will immediately receive an alert message that a new title is available. "Apple is the easiest of the bunch," says Kripalani, who thinks that knocks against Apple, which now publishes guidelines for approval at its iTunes store, are unfair.

Unlike most of its competitors, Oceanhouse is also embracing the Android mobile-device platform, used by Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Google. In fact, it offers 48 apps for it. And when Google recently announced a list of 150 "top developers" that consistently deliver high-quality Android apps, Oceanhouse Media was on the list. Early on, Oceanhouse decided to substantially rewrite its code for these apps so that it's now easier to submit them for approval. Think, however, required a large number of changes, so Kripalani won’t predict when itwill be available for Android mobile devices.

Oceanhouse continues to design first for Apple, with great success. The small-but-mighty San Diego company boasts 30 of the top 200 apps in the book category for the iPad and 22 out of the top 200 apps in the book category for the iPhone. As Dr. Seuss says, "Oh, the thinks you can think if only you try!"

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