Behind the App: Top Software Tools

Behind the App: Top Software Tools

At the recent Casual Connect show in San Francisco, we were excited to see video game makers offering a variety of products with broad appeal that even the most inexperienced and casual of app users could enjoy.  Surprisingly, the way in which they attack this problem – making games more intuitive and approachable – requires some unexpectedly complex technology and tricks that most users will never get to see.

While there are more than a few services, products and apps the average smartphone, social network or tablet PC user might be familiar with on display at Casual Connect, (such as life-sized Candy Crush Saga pieces walking around to promote King’s meg-ahit app) much of what was present at the show in San Francisco are behind-the-scenes services that help track users, integrate ads and maximize revenues for game makers.  That’s great in the majority of cases if you’re a developer who’s created an app, but of considerably less interest if you’re not a professional software maker. However, there are always some fun exceptions to the rule.

Following are six behind-the-scenes app services which quietly work hard to make players’ lives more fun and enjoyable. You may not recognize their names, but you can be glad these products are around, because they make the everyday experieneces we enjoy playing our favorite applications that much better.

Playphone – There’s probably an 83% chance that you’ve used PlayPhone’s service, and you may not even realize it.  That’s because the company now provides mobile app download solution for that percentage of the North American carriers’ mobile and smartphone products. Playphone designs app stores and the delivery platform for you to search and receive recommendations directly from your phone carriers.  With partnerships with AT&T, Verizon and the newly announced Sprint, the service they provide unwittingly touches the vast majority of app downloaders by providing the method for accessing content.

Arkadium – Every month, millions of Americans play crosswords on newspaper websites,, cable network pages and more.  But the LA Times, Discovery Network and dozens of more of these websites aren’t creating these games themselves.  A company named Arkadium creates, curates and manages the “Games” page of many of the country’s most popular site, and does so behind the scenes.  They’ve got hundreds of titles they rotate on these pages, but Sudoku and Crossword Puzzles are two of their most popular.

Lootsie – While many are familiar with the concept of virtual achievements to help engage player interest in games, platforms like Lootsie are emerging which are translating in-app activities into real-life rewards.  Instead of working hard to earn virtual currency that is realistically worthless, Lootsie negotiaties with major brands to provide real-life benefits, such as Starbucks or Best Buy, and works across a number of different games.

PaeDae – Pronounced “PAY-day,” this service takes offering real-life rewards even further by allowing users to enter sweepstakes and giveaways without detracting from the in-game experience.  They work with advertising agencies and game developers to make any advertising fun, instead of obtrusive, and only collect users e-mail addresses instead of pages of “lead-generating” personal information. For example, in the wildly popular “Car Town” Facebook game, PaeDae integrates a giveaway with Jack in the Box that to the user seems just like another fun part of the game, with real world benefits.

Tango – While many may be familiar with a business who provided face-to-face chat functionality before FaceTime stole its thunder, the company still has hundreds of millions of users of their chat client and has begun expanding their reach into the app market.  In addition to simple-to-play games that are contained within their chat client, they’re seamlessly integrating with other app publishers the ability to track, challenge and interact with your Tango friends in games like Candy Block Breaker and Jetpack Jinx.

FreeMyApps – If you download a lot of apps, you may want to consider getting them through FreeMyApps.  The company provides “points” for getting these through their service, and these points can be redeemed for iTunes credits.  The service is especially useful for kids who may have an iPod touch or an old iPhone who don’t have any money in their iTunes account as a way to earn credits that can be used to purchase a handful of paid apps. WEBSITE

Technology and Gadgets Every Child Should Own

Technology and Gadgets Every Child Should Own

Family Tech

Technology for parents & kids: Hints, tips, online safety strategies & more.

While technology may not have been an integral part of your childhood, it’s part of the very fabric of growing up these days.  In fact, some gadgets are so ingrained in our lives that they’re now the de facto gifts for certain birthdays, holidays and bar mitzvahs. Here’s a look at the essential technology and gadgets every child should own.

Home Computer – Every house should have at least one computer, and most now have at least two.  Teachers have come to expect computers and internet access at home for all children, assigning homework and class project for kids. Note though that kids don’t necessarily need their own computers.  In fact, experts still recommend that kids’ computer usage be kept on systems that are housed in common areas of the house, even if they’re on laptops.  There’s nothing kids should be doing on computers that needs to be kept private from the rest of the family.

Tablet PC or Touch Device – With computers now a given, the focus now turns to tablets and other touch devices as to whether they are “must-owns” or “nice-to-haves.”  Most educational school computer programs work on tablets, and they’re extremely portable and convenient to take on family trips or outings, whether it’s vacation or a local restaurant.

At the very least, we think kids need access to their family’s tablet device, and it’s up to parents to decide whether they need one for themselves.  Kids will want to use them to play games, so make sure that you’ve locked down the ability to purchase apps and regulate connections.

eBooks Readers – While there’s still something satisfying about physical books, kids can access literal libraries of information from their fingertips with eBook readers, and it’s the same content you remember from growing up.  There are even library subscriptions which allow kids to check out books on their eReaders.  Most parents would greatly prefer their kids read book instead of goof off playing games or chatting, so why not get them a device that lets them enjoy books the way they want.

Portable Hard Drive – With so much schoolwork being done on computers, it’s important to save it and back it up, so a portable hard drive will help kids keep all their files, even if they’re working on many different computers.  It’s also a good way to make sure that data stays safe and secure even if a computer gets lost or stolen.

USB Drive – While portable hard drives are big and bulky, USB drives are simple and compact way for kids to share and transport information.  Consider a keychain USB device so it’s always with them, and they can use it for important documents, personalized information or even sharing pictures.  USB Flash drives make it simple to switch data from computer to computer.

Smart Phone – We saved the best and most controversial for last.  Although kids around the age of 13 don’t necessarily need full function smart phones, as they get older and progress through high school, the functionality of the device will become extremely useful for them.  Realistically, kids don’t need all the bells and whistles smartphones offer, parents who trust their kids to use these devices properly will rest easier knowing they have map functionality and Internet access at their fingertips. To be clear, we don’t recommend this for young teens, but as kids get ready for college, smart phones certainly make a lot of sense.

10 Tips for Taking Care of Your Cell Phone

10 Tips for Taking Care of Your Cell Phone

Family Tech

Technology for parents & kids: Hints, tips, online safety strategies & more.

Chances are that you and your cell phone are seldom separated.  Statistics from Pew Research have shown that 2/3 of Americans who own a phone either sleep with their phone or keep it right next to their bed.

So what can you do to make sure nothing happens to your precious window to the outside world?  Here are 10 tips to take better care of your cell phone or smartphone to help it last at least the full two years of your contract.

Buy a Case to Protect It – This may seem like a no-brainer, but even the simplest of protective cases will help protect against the inevitable accidental falls that your phone is going to take.  Invest at least $25 in one to help protect your phone.

Improve Battery Life – Constant connections and multiple apps can drain your battery, so make sure you’re closed out fully of any apps you’re not losing, and if possible keep location-sharing services to a minimum. You should also disable any push notifications, and at least turn the phone to airplane mode if you’ll be traveling in and out of signals a lot.

Install Anti-Virus Software – Spotting viruses and malware has become second nature on personal computers, but it’s a lot trickier on mobile devices – and potentially more harmful considering the ease with which you use your phone to connect with others.  Check out software from companies like Lookout Mobile Security or Webroot to keep your phone safe.

Managing Memory – To keep your phone running quickly and smoothly, don’t push the limits of its storage capacity.  Keep some free space available, and remove photos and videos quickly after you’ve downloaded them.  Cloud storage makes it easy to keep much of this information off your device’s physical memory.

Password Protect – Use a password to protect your cell phone when not in use.  Many apps keep users signed in, so if your phone falls into the wrong hands it’s easy to access social networks as well as sensitive information like bank accounts or cell phone accounts.  Using a password is an easy step to take to prevent harmless pranks, but can be a life-saver if your device is ever stolen.

Protect Payment Options – Cell phones are used for much more than just phone calls these days, and many store payment options with your account.  Keep your accounts clear of personal information when possible, and never store credit card information on your phone.

Keep it Clean – Give your phone a good cleaning every couple of weeks, and consider using compressed air to blow dust or dirt particle out of crevices, especially if your phone still has physical buttons.

Install Anti-Theft Software – Tracking apps can be extremely useful if your phone is stolen, but also in helping locate family and colleagues.  You can use anti-theft software to see your phone’s location on a Google Map, provided the phone is connected to a network.

Think About Temperature – Phones don’t like being too hot or too cold, so don’t leave it in the bathing sun next to you when sunbathing, or exposed to the wintry air on cold December days.  Try and keep your phone the same temperature you like to be, and it will work better for longer.

Give it a Safe Home – There’s a place for everything, and everything in its place, and your cell phone should be no difference.  Create a safe, peaceful haven at home with a charging station.  Getting in the habit of leaving your phone in the same place will also help prevent you from losing it.