There’s a steady stream of great new apps every week, so how do you decide whether an app is worth the space it takes up on a device? More importantly, how do students and teachers decide which apps should stay and which apps should go? Is there any absolute standard we can employ?

Having just completed the inaugural YUDU Design & Technology Awards, we’ve been left to reflect on the results. This year has seen an ever more explosive growth in tablet usage in schools. Young people, often better acclimatized to mobile devices than their older peers and teachers, have high expectations of software. How can developers creating education apps make sure that their products live up to these expectations?

Good Night Books is available in app stores soon.

Good Night Books is available in app stores soon.

For reference, there were three shortlisted apps in this category: The Official Cambridge Guide to IELTS (exam preparation video app for English language students), The Future Game (a coaching app from the Football Association) and Good Night Books (books which ensure even reluctant children get reading quickly).

Judges used five objective qualifiers to determine which app should win. On reflection, the five criteria can be applied to any web- or app-based ELT product; we feel this can be used as an effective yardstick when developing digital products.

1. The app is feature rich and includes a good range of video, audio and HTML interactivity

Learning a language requires all senses to be engaged – this is one of the benefits of the digital learning environment. Video, audio and interactive quizzes can be blended together alongside text to engage a range of senses, as would take place in the real world.

 2. The design is suited to the device and has a pleasant user experience

One product on multiple devices. This used to be a developer’s nightmare. Although iOS customers spend around 25% more than Android users, in many markets developers need to develop for Android first. Android targets phones, tablets, TVs and watches; eventually interfaces will need to adapt to all of these. (for these awards we tested on iOS only, but it’s a point worth considering)

 3. It is easy to navigate the content of the app

Give a tablet to a 5-year old and you’ll be amazed at how quickly they can navigate to what they need. However, app customers are frequently not digital natives – languages are learned by all ages and, apart from exam materials, it’s not enough to assume that only youngsters will be accessing the content. Even if an app is designed specifically for the classroom, teachers still need to be able to make sense of it – clear navigation is key.

4. There is something unique and memorable about the design of the app

The Z3 was the world’s first fully automatic digital computer in 1941. Everything it was able to achieve was fascinating to its curious users. Fast forward to 2014 and ‘digital’ is just not that interesting unless it’s accompanied by a slick, unique design.

Think of all the most memorable apps you use, and devices you choose to spend time on: you’ll probably find those which prioritize UX (user experience) stand out most. This is what made Apple rise to the top, and this is the feature that will make your app stand out from other titles in the stores.

5. The app is useful, and there is a clear reason why users would return to the app

Put the passion for learning languages aside. The best apps give users a clear reason for returning again and again. It might be a points system – appealing to competitive types. Alternatively, it could simply be a syllabus requirement. Perhaps there’s an exam update which can only be acquired by logging in. Despite how proud you are of your pedagogically sound new digital title; the fact is that 90% of apps are only used once. It needs a draw to ensure new users will go back there. User-retention is a huge issue unto itself in app design and development.

Winning the YUDU Design & Technology Awards is not simply about the best-looking app. It’s about looking for the winning formula which combines a real-world functionality and an understanding of the consumer to really deliver an app which is useful and educational.

Laura Summers heads up Marketing at YUDU Media, an app developer specializing in publishing, training and education. Prior to working at YUDU, Laura worked at Pearson, Cengage Learning and Oxford University Press.

Image by: shorts and longs via Compfight cc. Text added by ELTjam.

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