A small Colorado Springs company found producing mobile applications for the education market to be as much of a learning experience for its owners as for the students and children for which they were designed.
Chris and Elizabeth Straka started SLP TechTools in 2010 to create applications to be used by speech language pathologists after a colleague introduced them to the iPad, Apple's popular tablet computer. Chris Straka has spent most of his career in marketing and technology, while Elizabeth Straka has been a speech-language pathologist for 30 years.
The couple spent about $20,000 to develop SLP Minimal Pairs, an application targeted at children with speech issues. They designed it as a limited free version users could try before buying an upgrade to a full version for $29.99.
'We went to a movie the day (the app) was released and when we got back we had six to 12 e-mails about how the app didn't work and we started getting bad reviews in the App Store. We were off to a rocky start, ' Chris Straka said. 'We later found out that schools couldn't do an in-app purchase (for the upgrade) because they use purchase orders. We ended up having to convert all of the buyers to a new app without giving it away to everyone who was downloading the free app. It was a nightmare. In the first few months, we had about $100 in sales. '
The popularity of SLP Minimal Pairs picked up during the 2010-11 school year, in part because the app got a favorable mention in a journal published by the American Speech-Language Hearing Association, a Maryland-based trade group. Sales jumped again after the company promoted the application at the group's national convention and have remained steady at 60 to 70 a month, Chris Straka said.
The company released its second application late last month, this time for Apple iPads and iPhones; it is called Drillaby and is designed to help children improve speech articulation. Drillaby, which sells for $5.99 for children and $24.99 for speech-language pathologists, is formatted as a game in which children complete articulation drills to visit four areas on an island before returning home. SLP TechTools sold about 50 of the Drillaby games in the first week it was offered in the App Store and this time received good reviews from users.
'Find yourself a strong development partner, somebody who knows the ins and outs of working with Apple and the App Store. It is a steep learning curve - it is an immersion process and you have to be willing to learn a lot along the way and understand you are going to make mistakes but you'll probably survive them, ' Chris Straka said. 'We had our share of mistakes and survived them. Apps have a quick product cycle, so you have to keep updating and revitalizing your app a couple of times a year to keep it fresh and appealing to users. '
SLP TechTools (http://slptechtools.com)released an updated version of Minimal Pairs in August and is planning on releasing two more applications this summer, including an adaptation of Drillaby targeting a different market, Chris Straka said.
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