Giveaway alert! In partnership Toca Boca, we're giving away a free download of Toca Hair Salon 2 to every Passported reader. If you don't know Toca Boca, they're the good guys of digital play, with a learning through play approach, no levels or high scores, and zero in-app purchases.
We chatted to co-founder and CEO, Bjorn Jeffery, about the Toca Boca philosophy, family life in SF, and why he and Kanye should be friends.
What makes Toca Boca different from other apps and digital games out there?
We believe in the power of play as one of the best ways to learn about the world — for us, it's about creating fun apps that are interactive and stimulate kids' imaginations. Rather than developing games, we create digital toys free of rules, levels or high scores. Each digital toy is gender neutral, so any kid boy or girl can enjoy them. They are also free of third-party advertising and in-app purchases, ensuring parents can trust our products as much as kids love them.
Is there a magic formula to creating a successful app for kids?
We've been seeing tremendous success with all of the apps in our recently released Toca Life series. The Toca Hair Salon apps are also two of our most popular apps of all time. We think it's crucial to approach developing products from the kid’s perspective. Before release, each app goes through rigorous kid testing — we create something, test it with real kids, update based on feedback and test again. Kids are the toughest critics, and they will tell you if they don’t like something. Sometimes this becomes a challenge in the design process, but ultimately it ensures when we release a product it’s something kids will love.
You introduced physical toys and designer collaborations last year, what's next for Toca Boca?
We have a lot going on here and are very excited about our future. We are still committed to our digital toys — you can expect to see more from the Toca Life series as well as some other new apps coming out later this year and next year. You mentioned our collaborations. We're also exploring options and partnerships around consumer products, in order to engage with more kids and bring Toca Boca off the screen. Finally, earlier this year we hired J Milligan, former creative director of the content innovation lab and digital media group at Sesame Workshop. J is heading up our new video division based in New York, which is quickly expanding and working to bring the kids’ perspective to video with TV you can touch.
1 iPad, 2 kids (age 4 and 9) and an 8-hour flight: which Toca Boca apps do you download to keep everyone happy?
I would go for the apps that are layered so that both kids can play in their own way. And hopefully even play together a little bit! I would start with Toca Life: School since that will be familiar to the nine year old and perhaps a little aspirational for the younger one. It is good pretend play that always works. Then I would get Toca Kitchen 2 for some big laughs. I'd finish off with Toca Nature for more on the creative side — going into a forest and watching the animals is a nice get away when sitting on a plane.
Do you remember what occupied you on long trips as a kid?
I liked the choose-your-own-adventure books. It was the portable interactive media of its day in a way. I skipped back and forth in the books and went deep into the stories. That was really fun, and you could play with them in many different ways too.
How often do you go back to Sweden? Can you share the favorite spots you always return to when you're home?
I'm in Sweden a few times a year both for work and play. Stockholm is a must of course, but I would take time to visit Malmö as well. In Stockholm the photographic museum Fotografiska is a lovely place with a great restaurant, and in Malmö you should stop by the restaurant Bastard, which has both great food and is a watering hole for some great people.
What do you love about living in SF now?
San Francisco is a fantastic place, but having access to California is almost better. There are so many great places within an hour from here, so you don't have to limit yourself to pure city life. But if you're staying in the city, I would recommend going to Japantown for fun and shopping. It's like a small slice of Tokyo, hidden in a few neutral buildings. And for food — just walk a block north to Octavia which does modern Californian food really well.
Kanye recently took to twitter to rant about in-app purchases. Have you converted him to Toca Boca yet?
I tried on Twitter straight away! But he seems to be more of a one-way communicator. If someone like him goes crazy about all the in-app purchases for kids, then I think that says a lot. He can afford it — but it isn't about the money. It's that it ruins the experience for kids. He should download Toca Band — our music app — and make some music together with his kids!