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Building apps for children a profitable niche

Most importantly, though, apps don't carry the stigma that other electronic media do, in particular television, with its well-documented links to childhood obesity and aggression. And so far they've been lauded by media literacy experts.

Warren Buckleitner, editor of Children's Technology Review, recently told the Boston Globe that if he could, he would bring seminal child development psychologist Jean Piaget back from the grave just to give him an iPhone.

"You can play with representation and manipulate symbols in a way you could never before," he said in a separate interview. "To turn off and dismiss this technology's potential for a child is the worst mistake you can make."

With such positive reviews and the growing popularity of Apple's mobile devices, the rush for apps for children is likely to continue unabated. Sesame Workshop, Nickelodeon and Disney have entered the field, all of them striving to make the most of the pass-back -- the term of art used to describe parents surrendering their mobile phones to their kids in hopes of preventing crying jags by distracting them.

So far, the business of meltdown management appears to be recession-proof. As of November, 60 percent of the 25 top-selling apps were for toddlers, according to an analysis done by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop. A PicPocket book costs between 99 cents and $3.99. Apple takes 30 percent off the top. The balance is split among the publishers, voice-over talent, technical folks and Mattke, who said PicPocket is already profitable enough to work as a second income.

Looking to connect with other app makers, Mattke got together with two Bay Area women, Jill Seman and Lorraine Akemann, to form Moms With Apps, which now has about 70 members. The developers in Moms With Apps trade advice and commiserate and, most importantly, cross-promote each other's apps, which has become even more important as apps for little ones proliferate. A few of the group's members have struck it big, with the prime example being one known as "Duck Duck Moose," the creators of a top-selling Wheels on the Bus app. The rest, such as Tracey and William Weil of the District, are slowly building name recognition and sales.

The Palisades couple in February launched an app called Tales2Go that provides audio stories. A year's subscription costs $24.99. The Weils have partnered with dozens of leading storyteller publishers, including a division of Scholastic Inc., for content and with Stitcher, the top news talk app for smartphones. They won't discuss revenue figures, but said they aren't profitable yet.

While they may not achieve the same level of success, the members share the same goal. "We want to help people use technology responsibly," Mattke said.

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