In today’s landscape of children’s apps, Pok Pok stands out as a unique proposition born from its creators’ personal necessity, aiming to address young children’s initial interaction with technology. Since its launch in 2018, this app has made waves, notably winning the Apple Design Award in 2021. Now, it’s once again in the headlines as one of the recipients in the Social Impact category of the 2023 App Store Awards.
A game that isn’t a game, it’s a toy
At Softonic, we’ve sought to sit down with the key figures behind the application to hear firsthand about their proposal and future plans. Melissa and Esther have provided us with a unique perspective on both what it means to create an application of this caliber and what it takes to earn the prestigious distinction from Apple.
The Pok Pok project started a bit before 2018. At that time, Esther and her husband, with their two young children, were exploring what app they could give their kids that went beyond physical toys and learning. Many apps were too simplistic, while others were not just overly complex but aimed to keep the user engaged for as long as possible. None seemed to fit. That’s when they initially conceived the idea, more as a hobby, to create their own app.
In 2018, still part of Snowman, the developers behind famous games like Alto’s Odyssey, they began developing Pok Pok. They aimed to create a game that offered multiple experiences to capture the attention of young children while fostering their intellectual and emotional development through digital platforms.
There are many factors that set Pok Pok apart from other similar apps. All the hand-drawn animations or the personalized recording of every sound effect are some of them. But perhaps its global vocation is the most important. It’s an app that is not only relevant to all children worldwide but also shows each of them the plurality of the world.
In this regard, as Melissa shared, the development team has worked diligently to ensure that the app reflects the diversity of the real world, including positive representations of the LGBTQ+ community and constant updates that encompass various cultures and festivities. This approach aims to offer children a broad perspective of the world and foster acceptance and respect for differences.
Since the first beta, contact and communication with parents has been a cornerstone in the development of Pok Pok. Through platforms like Instagram, the team maintains constant dialogue with parents, many of whom are first-timers, providing invaluable feedback and participating in the testing process for new ideas and features.
Pok Pok is the closest thing to a digital toy. Not a game, per se, but a toy. No rules, no objectives, no rewards, no lives or loss of levels. It’s a digital world, a reflection of the physical, where one can explore without limits and which allows and encourages children to find their own interests.
Focused on children aged between two and seven years old, the inspiration for Pok Pok comes from a variety of sources. The developers draw ideas from their own childhood experiences, real games, and everyday objects. A recent example the team mentioned to us is the lava lamp, which inspired some relaxation activities within the app.
The initial idea of a digital “busy book” has evolved into a platform with interactive illustrations and visual and auditory stimulation that, leveraging the canvas offered by a screen, enhances and adapts the experience for the youngest users.
In terms of the business model, Pok Pok opted for a subscription model to keep the app free from ads and paywalls. Now, with the reputation earned, this model is easy to defend, but it wasn’t the case when the app entered the market. The decision to keep children away from ads, without paywalls or similar barriers, has paid off. Melissa mentioned that the monetization decision has been well-received by parents, who are already accustomed to subscription models in many other services.
Thanks to regular income, Pok Pok can maintain the necessary team for continuous app updates. New toys, new designs, seasonal updates, and above all, careful design and dedication to manual production, are all possible thanks to this business model.
Apple’s recognition has been a significant milestone for Pok Pok. Esther and Melissa admitted that within the team, they were already aware they were creating something relevant. It’s that confidence in the project that fuels their drive to carry it forward. Yet, validation from Apple, a company that reviews thousands of applications daily, has boosted both the team’s morale and the popularity of their product.
They acknowledge that the award doesn’t alter their future plans, but they are aware that the recognition will further open doors for the dissemination and application of the project. Looking ahead, Pok Pok plans to expand its focus to encompass a broader age range.
Beyond the age of 7, there’s significant usage of the application. Perhaps by older children who continue to explore its functions or as a tool for individuals on the autism spectrum, where Pok Pok serves not only as a source of fun but also as an exercise for their development. The team is also exploring reaching children below the age of two, although this entails much more research than one might expect. Among other factors, this is due to the fact that children’s motor systems are still developing, and interactions with an app need to accommodate and fit within those early age moments.
Nevertheless, Pok Pok stands out in the children’s app market for its unique focus on open-ended play and exploration. From Melissa and Esther’s enthusiasm discussing the game and its plans, not only this interview but an entire series of articles on design, adaptability, business models, team management, and much more could emerge. This time, we’ll stick to this article, but with a very clear recommendation: if we have children with us, let’s take a look at Pok Pok. We’ll surely be in for a surprise.