A few interesting apps for the Kindle aimed at kids

The Kindle holds a lot of promise in that it might be able to get a lot more kids interested in reading.

One of the things that might help with that are apps aimed at kids. Whether it’s small fun games like Hangman for Kids ($1.99, rated 4.5 stars on 11 reviews), or education oriented apps like the two released this week - apps for kids help the Kindle be a better device/ereader for kids.

This week we saw the arrival of two very interesting apps aimed solely at kids -

  1. Flash Cards: Basic Math for Kids by Digi Ronin Games. Price: $2.99. Genre: Kindle Apps, Kindle Apps for Kids, Math, Flash Cards. This is an app that lets kids exercise their basic math skills – addition, subtraction, multiplication, division. It’s a cool idea and it’s interesting to think that kids can address 2 out of the 3 R’s with the Kindle now. Well, it’s a start – with a few more apps like this, they definitely will be able to.

    Flash Cards: Basic Math for Kids helps your child learn basic arithmetic by giving them practice doing addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. There are five difficulty levels designed around common arithmetic learning concepts that progress from single digit operations with no regrouping to double digit problems with regrouping. There are three different modes of play

  2. Flash Cards: Fractions for Kids by Digi Ronin Games. Price: $2.99. Genre: Kindle Apps for Kids, Fractions, Flash Cards. This app covers fractions.

    Flash Cards: Fractions helps your child learn about fractions by giving them practice doing conversions from fractions to decimals and percentages, and converting from percentages and decimal values back to fractions.There are four difficulty levels designed around common fraction usage.

These are both very good, solid additions to the Kindle Store. Perhaps at some point of time the creators will try out $1 and reduce the friction for people wanting to try out the apps.

Random thoughts on the Trachtenberg System of Speed Math and Vedic Maths

I’ve always wanted to make an app that was a combination of Vedic Maths and Trachtenberg’s System of Math. If a few more apps like these come out, that might be enough motivation to do this. Wouldn’t even mind if Digi Ronin or someone else made an app – would even consult with them if they needed the help.

Here are a few simple math tricks.

1) Vedic Math – Squaring Numbers that end in 5

If the number is of the form x5, where x could be 2 or something larger like 11, simply take x and multiply it by x+1. Then append 25 to the end of it.

Example: 75.

75 = 7 appended to 5.

Take apart the 7 and multiply it by 7+1. 7*8 = 56.

Then just append 25 at the end of it to get 5625.

Example 2: 125.

125 = 12 appended to 5.

Take apart the 12 and multiply it by 12+1. 12*13 = 156.

Then just append the 25 at the end of it to get 15625.

2) Trachtenberg system of Math – Multiplying by 11

Courtesy Jim Loy’s Trachtenberg System of Math page (though buying the book is the best option).

To multiply by 11 go left to right and add each digit to the one to the right of it. Also, write down the left-most digit first and the right-most digit last and append them at the two ends.

So abcd by 11 =

a appended to (a+b) appended to (b+c) appended to (c+d) appended to d.

Example: 4253 by 11

That’s 4 appended to 6 appended to 7 appended to 8 appended to 3. Answer = 46783.

Example 2: 77834 by 11

That’s 7 appended to 14 appended to 15 appended to 11 appended to 7 appended to 4. Here we have carries which we treat just like we would in normal addition. We add those in and we get 856174.

It’s a bit crazy just how easy this is. Would you rather have a kid memorize the tables for 11 or would you rather let kids learn this simple rule and multiply absolutely any number by 11?

People wouldn’t really be scared of Math if they knew all the secrets and things that make math super straightforward.

A little on the history of Trachtenberg Speed Math and on Vedic Math

Trachtenberg thought up the Trachtenberg Speed System of Math in a concentration camp. That’s just bad ass. That’s something Chuck Norris would be proud of.

It’s an entire system of math that turns people into math geniuses. Yet, 50+ years after it’s been invented, we’d rather have people grow up thinking they suck at mathematics and are stupid because of it.

It does take some work to get it – However, look at the multiplication by 11 rule above. Isn’t that a thousand times more elegant than having kids stumble around for a calculator?

Also, once you try out the rule a few times you can write out the answer quicker than you could key the digits into a calculator. Practice the Multiply by 11 rule a bit and then take 5346547 x 11 and try it out yourself.

Vedic Maths is based on ancient Indian books, the Vedas. The multiplication by 5 rule is one example. Vedic Maths has been studied quite a bit and has gotten a lot more coverage than the Trachtenberg system, but they are both relatively obscure.

There aren’t very many super easy introductions to Vedic Math. However, this Vedic Mathematics book is a decent introduction. It’s written by the gentleman who figured out that the Vedas had this math system hidden in them. It’s difficult to read but very rewarding.

Could we combine Vedic Math with Trachtenberg’s System of Math?

The blueprint for a great math app would be something that combined all the key principles from Vedic Maths with the structure of Trachtenberg’s System of Math. The current approach is to play up the ‘mental math’ aspect which is a pity. It’s as if someone got gifted a rocket that can fly to the moon and he’s using it as an advertising blimp.

The real point of it should be to replace how math is taught. Why not teach Trachtenberg Math and Vedic Math as the foundation? If we treat these two incredibly powerful approaches to mathematics as party tricks it misses the whole point.

Of course, it’s easy to be cynical about why really powerful stuff like this gets left out of education.

Who would want every single student (or perhaps 80% of students) to start thinking they were math geniuses and intelligent. That would make things awfully inconvenient for people who wanted to sell them variable rate mortgages or, for that matter, non-voting stock in Internet companies that don’t make any profits.

Thoughts on various bits of Kindle, eReader news and speculation

The Kindle is again stirring up speculation of all sorts. There’s also some interesting Kindle related news.

Author finds a new way to market his book

An author at the official Kindle forum has found a new way to market his book -

  1. He announced 20 free copies – all he asked for, in return, was a genuine review.
  2. There were soon 250+ replies, with at least 100 people interested in reviewing the book.
  3. It’s gotten a lot of buzz. It might have cost him a few thousand dollars in advertising to get a similar level of publicity.

A good indicator of how competitive things are is that another half a dozen or so authors are now offering a similar deal. It’s less than a day, and already authors are copying what worked for one author. People are severely under-estimating how competitive things are going to be.

5.4 million Kindles and 4.5 million Kindles

Ming-Chi Kuo, former analyst at DigiTimes, and current analyst at Concord Equity Research, has this to say -

  1. 5.4 million Kindle 3s and Kindle WiFis sold since launch. 
  2. Amazon shipped 1.6 million Kindles in December – same as iPad. However, iPad sales in the winter quarter are expected to be between 5 and 10 million units. The shipments are down only due to iPad 2 being on the horizon.
  3. 4.5 million Kindles are expected to ship in Q1, 2011. That seems an awfully optimistic estimate. Unless there’s a new Kindle, it might be hard for Amazon to sell 1.1 million Kindles a month.
  4. 12 million eReaders have been shipped so far, and another 27 million eReaders will ship in 2011. Another very optimistic estimate – almost bordering on the unbelievable.

Thanks to Apple Insider for the scoop.

B&N might have two eReaders lined up – Nook2 and Nook Kids

PocketNow has the news that B&N is applying for a lot of new trademarks. There’s some intelligent speculation - Evan Blass at PocketNow points out that two of the trademark applications seem to be for new devices.

  1. One seems to be for the second version of the Nook, named Nook2.
  2. The other seems to be for a Nook aimed at children, called Nook Kids. The description reads –  

    “portable electronic apparatus for displaying, receiving, reading and storing downloadable electronic publications, namely, books, e-books, magazines, newspapers, text, images, digital web site content and digital media featuring music through wired and wireless Internet access, accessories therefor and instructional manuals, sold as a unit.”

  3. Both Nook2 and Nook Kids trademark applications were filed on June 8th. The same day that B&N applied for the Nook WiFi trademark.

There’s also talk of a software called Nook Cook, and a service called Nooksellers - which seems to be a recommendation engine.

Kindle 3 vs Nook 2 ought to be very interesting

Amazon has done really well with Kindle 3. It wouldn’t be a surprise to find out that B&N had something lined up, realized it couldn’t compete with Kindle 3, and went back to the drawing board.

If a Nook 2 arrives in early 2011, and it’s good, it could cause a lot of problems for Amazon. On one side, there’d be Nook Color eating up the casual reader market, and on the other side, there’d be an improved Nook 2 – stealing away readers interested in library books and ePub.

Depending on what features the Nook 2 has, it might even force Amazon to drop the price of the Kindle 3 and Kindle WiFi. We do need more competition in the eReader space – a Nook2 would be great for everyone.

Is a Kindle for Kids in the works? If not, how will Amazon respond to Nook Kids?

If B&N manages to introduce an unbreakable ‘Nook Kids’ eReader, for $100 to $150, it would do exceptionally well in the children’s eReader market (which we’re assuming exists). Already, with the Nook Color, B&N has shown its interested in the children’s book market. Now, with this trademark registration for ‘Nook Kids’, you have to imagine there’s a high chance we’re about to see the first eReader made for kids.

The biggest concern parents have is that they can’t hand a $189 or $139 eReader to a kid, who might drop it or throw it, and literally throw away all that money. An unbreakable eReader would solve the issue.

At the same time, most parents do want an eReader for their kids – reading makes kids smarter, it’s a far better use of free time than TV and video games, and it can also be used for school-work.

The market is huge. You have to suspect an unbreakable Nook Kids would also do very well with junior school and middle school kids. If B&N includes support for library books, and it almost certainly will, it becomes very, very compelling.

Kindle for Kids thoughts, bestselling kindle children’s books – 88 cents

On your Kindle, for your kids and grandkids, loads of deals -

  1. 4 Curious George books are available for 88 cents each. The link goes to the author page – You can click ‘Kindle Books’ and 3 of the books on the first page are 88 cents. They are all very well rated. Written by Hans Augusto Rey.
  2. 9 Berenstain Bears books are on offer for just 88 cents each. Most are rated 4.5 stars or 5 stars. The link goes to the Author Page – Please click on ‘Kindle books’ to see the Kindle editions. 7 of those on the first page and 2 of those on the second page are just 88 cents. They’re written by husband-wife pair Stan and Jan Berenstain. 260 million copies have been sold so far.
  3. 5 books in the A to Z Mysteries Series are on offer for 88 cents. Most are rated 5 stars. The link goes to the Author’s Page and again you’ll have to click on ‘Kindle Books’. The first two pages have 4 88 cent books and you might find a few more by searching for ‘A to Z mysteries’ in the Kindle Store.
  4. 8 Magic Tree House books for 88 cents each. It’s the same trick again – The link takes you to the author’s page and you click Kindle books and you get 8 very well rated books for 88 cents each. Written by Mary Pope Osborne.

It’s impressive that for $23 you can get 28 really good children’s books. Anyone who thinks physical books are going to have 75% of the market in 2015 has his eyes wide shut.

Thanks to Petrona at the official kindle forum for the update.

Kindle for Kids thoughts

  1. Breakability is probably still the #1 concern. Both the Kindle screen and the Kindle innards are still too fragile. As Kindles get thinner and compacter it’s even more of a concern.
  2. Lack of Parental controls is probably the #2 concern. Your kid might find something totally inappropriate like one of those werewolf ultra-romance novels. Not only would you have to explain the facts of life you’d have her/him having nightmares about mediterranean princes who turn into werewolves hiding under the bed.
  3. The inability to password protect book purchases is the third big concern.
  4. There are a few games in the iPhone App Store that try to link rewards to good behavior – Life as a RPG. It’d be good to get an app that keeps track of kids’ reading and rewards them with something - perhaps new games to play, perhaps gold stars.
  5. There’s obviously a huge opportunity for apps that teach reading and help improve kids’ vocabulary.
  6. Price-wise we’re getting close enough – $139 is almost low enough for a Kindle for Kids.
  7. The Internet is a concern – It’d almost be a good idea to have an option to turn WiFi and/or the browser off.
  8. Simplified Menus and options. Actually, the Kindle is already close.
  9. Better text to speech quality and more options in terms of speed of speaking. Perhaps even a pronunciation guide.

Can’t decide whether having a Kindle as a kid would be the coolest thing ever or it’d be better to have a library and lots of bookshelves. Perhaps kids should have both - Books lining up the shelves of their rooms and Kindles they can take to school.

Nook Color is actually making a very strong push in children’s books. Ran into yet another review that starts with ‘wasn’t expecting much’ and ends with ‘it’s good and it’s half the price of an iPad’. Both Steve Jobs and Mr. Bezos need to start getting their answer to the Nook Color in place.

The Case for Kindle Parental Controls, free kindle horror book

First, for your Kindle or Kindle App, a free kindle book -

  1. Serial by Jack Kilborn and Blake Crouch. Price: $0. Genre: Thriller, Suspense, Horror. Lots of good reviews and lots of bad reviews.

    Remember the twin golden rules of hitchhiking?

    # 1: Don’t go hitchhiking, because the driver who picks you up could be certifiably crazy.
    # 2: Don’t pick up hitchhikers, because the traveler you pick up could be raving nutcase.

    So what if, on some dark, isolated road, Crazy #1 offered a ride to Nutcase #2?

    When two of the most twisted minds in the world of horror fiction face off, the result is SERIAL, a terrifying tale of hitchhiking gone terribly wrong.

Have to say – If the book is written as well as the product description there’s no way a single 1 star review is warranted.

Next, let’s make a case for Kindle Parental Controls.

Kindle Parental Controls – Making Kindle for Kids a reality

There are quite a few reasons that it’s currently not very safe to give kids unrestricted access to a Kindle – they might buy that $6,713 nuclear physics book, they might find an erotic romance novel, they might read a horror novel that traumatizes them for life, they might discover the browser and end up at terrible sites.

Here are some of the solutions currently suggested and the associated problems in italics -

  1. De-regiter your credit card. Problem is lots of erotica titles are still free and there’s Internet access.  
  2. De-register from the Kindle account. You still have Internet access via WiFi on Kindle 3 and Kindle WiFi.  
  3. Turn off WiFi access at home or blacklist your kid’s Kindle so it can’t connect. Schools and Starbucks and lots of other places have WiFi.
  4. Buy a separate Kindle and monitor it. It’s still on a shared account and books can be downloaded from the archive and later deleted. Browsing history can be deleted too. Monitoring takes time.  

You know what – the common issue here is that these are all inconvenient and inelegant hacks.

It’s making customers put in a lot of time and effort instead of saving customers time and effort. There should be a one-button solution – turn off Kindle Store purchase with one button, turn off browser with one button, turn off downloading of books with one button.

Better still – create a Kid Mode where only Internet sites and books that are safe for kids are accessible.

Here’s the comment from ‘concerned parents’ that got me thinking about this -

Christmas shopping has begun for our large blended family ages 7-18, and we dont want our kids accessing the internet without our knowledge, or reading content we deem inappropriate for young minds.

All our children love to read, and we have considered the Kindle, Nook, and Reader… but none seem to have parental controls. Too bad. Maybe next year, once they are implemented, our money will be spent on eReaders! Until then, not a chance.

Coincidentally, there’s a complicated discussion on Kindle Parental Controls going on at the official Kindle forum.

One of the interesting suggestions is a ‘safe for kids’ rating -

 I would like there to be parental controls for the Kindle – preferably on the reader controlling content downloaded rather than on the account so the account can be shared by children of different ages, to be controlled so that only items that receive a specific parental rating code can be downloaded.

I would like the authors of Kindle manuscripts to (at their discretion) submit their literature to receive a rating code.

This issue is probably going to be misunderstood – All we mean when we say parental controls is a way to give kids a Kindle that doesn’t have access to the Internet and doesn’t allow unrestricted buying. Parental controls that let you give your kid a Kindle and then not have to constantly monitor it and worry about it. It would also be entirely opt-in so if you don’t have kids or don’t want parental controls you’d never even know it was there.

Amazon selling iPad, Kindle for kids, more

Amazon selling iPad … that can’t be right

A few weeks after the Kindle 3 and Amazon came out with an ad slamming the iPad there’s news that Amazon has started selling the iPad directly from its website. Amazon seems out of stock now but lots of reliable sources like Fortune wrote about it so it must have had some stock.

All that can be found at the moment are iPads from 3rd party stores selling at a $50 to $100 premium. Perhaps Apple gave only a little bit of stock – It’s what they seem to have done with Best Buy. Anything that helps create scarcity.

Amazon selling iPads is remarkable – It’s Amazon having its cake and eating it too.

Let’s make fun of the iPad, let’s sell it and take a cut, … What’s next?

Free Kindle Book – Yet Again

Next, a free kindle book since it’s part of my blogger contract to mention one in every post (just kidding, seems more like the ‘free book’ albatross) -

  1. Remember Why You Play by David Thomas. Rated 5 stars on 3 reviews.

    If you enjoyed Friday Night Lights, this book is a must-read. Remember Why You Play documents the lives, struggles, and triumphs of the players and coaches of Faith Christian School in Grapevine, Texas.

    Sports columnist and author David Thomas followed the team for a full season, recording a story that will inspire readers to understand that relationships are more important than winning.

    One of the key events was a game that Faith Christian played against the Gainesville State Tornadoes, a school for convicted juvenile offenders. The story of this spectacular game is being made into a movie, titled One Heart, with an anticipated release in November 2010.

There’s so much in the write-up – Faith Christian taking on a school for convicted juvenile offenders, a Friday Night Lights reference, a movie to be released in a month. All we need is Aaron Sorkin to grant everyone the wit of Jeeves and Wooster and David Fincher to glam it up and mark it out as a social commentary on the post-Social Network generation.

Is Kindle 3 a good device for 9 to 11 year olds?

A very good question being asked at the official kindle forums. Let’s consider the Kindle WiFi’s suitability for children.

The pros -

  1.  It’s light and compact and even young kids’ hands won’t get tired from holding the Kindle WiFi
  2.  It’s cheap at $139 so even if they break it it’s not a big loss.
  3. Lots of free public domain books. All the classics for free and most of their assigned reading from school.
  4. Lots of free book offers.
  5. They’ll grow smarter. Instead of playing video games or farming in Farmville they’ll be reading books – hopefully good ones.
  6. With the Kindle App Store beginning to open up they have some basic games too.
  7. The built-in dictionary and the text to speech feature both add a lot of value.

These add on to all the other benefits – books in 60 seconds, carry all your books with you, a serviceable browser, no heavy back-pack. 

Something worth adding here is that the combination of a few factors makes the Kindle especially suited for kids who struggle with reading – ability to change the font size, option to change line spacing and words per line, text to speech, all the classics for free, a focus on reading. For kids who get distracted or who have reading problems the Kindle is a pretty good option.

Consider this comment from Joan -

My 12 year old daughter has my old Kindle 1, and because she has an eye sight problem, this is ideal for her.

She has it on the largest font size. She has been reading the Sisters Grimm books and loves them. She has never shown an interest in reading before this! This is such a good thing!

There are probably lots of kids who have ‘never shown an interest in reading’ because they had genuine reading struggles that weren’t being addressed.

The cons -

  1. They’ll probably be lost when their peers are talking about StarCraft and Farmville and Justin Beiber and Gossip Girl and other things young kids these days entertain themselves with.
  2. It is quite breakable and they might also lose it.
  3. No parental controls.
  4. The browser can also lead to bad sites.
  5. No password protection for purchases so you can’t exactly regulate buying unless you de-register the Kindle or remove your credit card information.
  6. The selection of children’s books is, to the best of my knowledge, a bit limited.
  7. Will the no-frills Kindle hold their attention as well as a mind-sapping flashy game console?
  8. Not many textbooks are available on the Kindle. English reading assignments – Yes. Textbooks – No.

Add on the other negatives – no library books so one source of free books is gone, eInk is still in its initial stages, new books are expensive.

What are parents saying about their kids’ experiences with the Kindle?

Mostly positive things and surprisingly positive things.

Lots of comments at this kindle forum thread on kindle for kids -

My nine year old daughter “inherited” my K2i and LOVES IT! She’s been extremely careful with it, and reads every night. ; ) HTH

I have a 10 year old boy who likes the K2. He likes it better than books. He likes to read and reads at about his grade level. We don’t find a lot of content at his level that is inexpensive, though. $9.99 a pop adds up. Some of the old classics are free or $0.99.

My 9 yr old daughter inherited my K1 and loves it. She has been an avid
reader since age 4. She is very responsible and we enjoy reading our Kindles together. My 7 yr old daughter is now asking for her own.

I got my then 12 yo daughter a kindle 1 2 christmas’s ago…and haven’t regretted for a second! She reads constantly, …

In some ways it’s a good way to teach kids to be responsible -

My K2 went to my son (almost 10) and daughter (7). My daughter uses it more than my son and she takes super good care of it.

I  have read other posts about children and Kindles and it seems that if the child is careful with it that it can work well.

It’s surprising to see so many replies (there are 56 comments). Hadn’t realized so many people are giving their kids Kindles and are seeing good results.

Follett’s Fall of Giants falls to a 2 star review rating

Regardless of whether you think it’s right or wrong you have to be impressed by this -

Check out the customer reviews for Follett’s latest “Fall of Giants.” Kindle pricing seems to have struck a collective nerve

2 star rating. 136 1 star reviews.

Plus you have to acknowledge that it is probably having an effect -

Were I to be browsing, looking for books, I would have passed this book by because it has a 2 star rating.

A few people are arguing that it’s still in the Kindle Store Top 10. Well, almost every big author release hits the Top 10 when it comes out and there are lots of die-hard fans that will buy it at $19.99. However, there are lots of people who will not buy it at $19.99 and lots of people who will not buy it because of the 2 star review rating.

Plus those reviews NEVER go away. 1 year from now people will just assume the book is terrible.

Do we really expect people to look at 1 star reviews and figure out the bad reviews are due to Kindle pricing?

Why all the 1 star reviews?

Because the ebook is priced at $19.99. Not $12.99 or $14.99 or even $17.99. It’s a gigantic $19.99.

The hardcover (all 1,000 pages of it) is at $19.39. 

Pricing the ebook at $19.99, higher than the giant hardcover version, is just pushing things too far. At some point it changes from making money to abusing your readers and rubbing salt into their wounds.

To make things worse the price is lower in other countries -

Yes, it’s only $9.99 plus $2 Whispernet charge for Australian customers too. I wonder why the US publisher priced it so high?

So Canada and Australia pay $9.99 but US readers are expected to pay $19.99.


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