Every week, we kindly ask one of our fellow Toca Bocans for a quick peek at their desk. Actually, we never really ask, we simply take some time to snoop around in their creative mess, which is then neatly organized a moment later.
This week we have the amazing Amanda. She has been working at Toca Boca since 2011 and has been a part of the teams that have developed some Toca Boca favorites like Toca House, Toca Tailor, Toca Mini (which was her favorite app) & Toca Town.
Megan: So Amanda, tell us about some of the cool stuff on your desk.
Amanda: Hmm, well the round stickers on my macbook are the first Toca Boca stickers we made without the logo. We only made one batch so they’re quite rare! The other sticker on my macbook, the cat/octopus one, is from github.com, a tool that I use every day at work. I love Lego, so I have several Lego models that I’ve built at my desk. The Lego model at the top left corner is “The Shellraiser”, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ car. I’m a big TMNT fan. I built it during one of our Lego nights at the office.
M: Very cool! Isn’t lego the best? What can you not live without?
A: My computer! What’s missing in the photo that I also cannot live without: my computer mouse & mousepad, and my second monitor which is essential when coding. My favorite item on my desk is the Yoshi plushie. Can’t live without him either.
M: Awe! Yoshi is essential. What sort of things on your desk make you laugh?
A: The Lego model at the bottom left corner of the photo. I call him “Nybble”.
M: LOL! He makes me laugh too! Tells us more!
A: Many of the other things on my desk are stuff I’ve bought from the Gashapon machine in the office. The coin is in fact a Japanese coin (100 yen) that I need for buying stuff from the Gashpaon machine. Let’s see, theres the black christmas ornament that came from the Toca Boca christmas party that I helped organize at the end of last year. The small white robot, you can hardly see it in the photo, but it’s below the christmas ornament, is a 3D model that I’ve printed using the 3D printer that we have at the office. (It should be known that Amanda recently fixed the 3D printer in the office! Another reason for being amazing Amanda!). And I have two iPhone/iPad charger cables, one with the new type of connector and one with the ‘old style’ connector, that I use for debugging on older devices such as iPad 1, 2 & 3 and iPhone 3GS, 4 & 4S.
M: Thanks for sharing your desk with us, Amanda! Sorry we moved everything around… will you forgive us?
The people have spoken! You asked for refillable cups and bottles in Toca Town and we listened. We loved reading all your comments and suggestions and were more than happy to revamp Toca Town to add this fun feature. It’s available today on the App Store! Don’t have Toca Town? No worries! It’s just a click away for only $2.99!
Well, not really. But our friend Willow is using some cool science to make Kombucha in the office. It currently resides in the kitchen and after a few strange looks at the SCOBY brewing we decided to ask Willow all about it!
Megan: So, what is this stuff?
Willow: It’s a fermenting culture that helps turn sweet tea into a fizzy drink that’s filled with B-vitamins, antioxidants and those good-for-your-tummy probiotics. It originally comes from China, from one of the dynasty’s, and is a gazillion years old (the process that is). I’ve only been making it for around six months.
M: It looks a little strange to see floating in a jar in the kitchen. How did you get started?
W: I picked up a batch from the Stockholm mini maker fare when I visited. A lady had been given the SCOBY from a friend who got it direct from China – which is where it originates from.
M: OK, so you get some ancient SCOBY and then what?
W: You make really sweet tea – like 2 dl sugar to 1.5 liters water. Boil the water, add the sugar and black or green tea. Leave to cool. Add your SCOBY and leave for 5-7 days until desired sweetness is reached. The SCOBY eats the sugar, basically just like yeast in bread, and produces bubbles and all the other good stuff like antioxidants and probiotics.
M: So it’s fizzy and sweet? How does it taste?
W: It has been called the champagne of teas, but I think that makes it sound pretty gross. I really like it, obviously. It’s sort of hard to describe… it has that little edge that fermentation brings but does not taste bitter. If you brew it a long time it tastes vinegary, which I quite like too.
M: I assume there are a ton of heath benefits to this champagne of teas…
W: Oh there’s loads! Russian and Chinese studies have shown it prevents cancer, something about the glucaric acid in it. It helps relieve joint pain and arthritis. It’s a good detox, helps your digestion and boosts the immune system.
M: Oh wow! Sign me up for all of that! And thanks for sharing. Is it tea party time?
Every week, we kindly ask one of our fellow Toca Bocans for a quick peek at their desk. Actually, we never really ask, we simply take some time to snoop around in their creative mess, which is then neatly organized a moment later.
First up is our Office Assistant, Yanto. If you ever visit our office in Stockholm and see a casual plate of cold cuts in the kitchen, spot a bottle of home-made Sangria, hear some weird but funky music or simply enjoy a cup of freshly brewed coffee – that’s all him!
Q: Hi Yanto! What three things could you not live without on your desk?
A: 1. Post-It’s*. Makes my wold a little more fluffy and also pink. 2. Dymo-Master. Who doesn’t want to label everything that isn’t where it’s supposed to be? 3. The staplers. One is used for short term. But for most projects I use the grey and yellow mothership! It has a more long-lasting effect.
*In case you’re wondering what each Post-it color means:
Orange: What the boss wants – not the wife Sunshine: Scribble Pink: Urgent Green: It’s in the pipe Blue: What my wife wants for dinner Yellow: I should probably do this today or tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow…
Over the last few months, we've been trying to work out how we could improve certain parts of our communication with you, and how we can learn from our toys. It is a complicated matter of course, but we've been taking it slow. We have done surveys in our user community to find out what you like and don't like, and we've been working with industry experts to make sure that we got everything right.
What we wanted to do was give ourselves the possibility to:
Learn from our own apps. What works and what doesn't? Which characters are popular? How often are people playing? Questions like that. This way we can learn more about the apps and use that knowledge to make even better ones. It is completely anonymized and we don't collect any email adresses or other personal information by doing so.
Understand which parts of our advertising that work. If we spend $10 on five different advertising networks and 10 people download the app, we still can't see which of the five advertising networks that actually made that happen. This means we waste a lot of money on ads that don't work. And we all know how we feel about ads that aren't relevant.
Offer more ways to communicate. We have many Facebook fans, followers on Twitter and subscribers to our newsletter. Still we have many parents saying that they didn't know that we had released a new app. So we're trying to add more ways of communicating so that you can choose whatever way suits you best.
In order to try to address the abovementioned issues, we're making a few changes. In simple terms, the following things will change and will be visible in new apps and future updates:
We have changed the user experience of Toca News. TheToca News icon is our way of highlighting our other toys and is located in the lower right corner of each app's menu screen. It is now harder for your kids to access content outside the app. If you don't want it at all, you can always turn it off in the Settings app on your device – just like before.
We have added the option of receiving push notifications from us. In our survey, many of you said that you would appreciate receiving information from us in this way. Push notifications are of course completely voluntary. And even if you said yes at first, you can always turn it off again by going to your Settings app, and then choosing Notifications. There you can turn notifications on and off for every app on your device.
If you have any thoughts, questions or concerns – please send me an email or write a comment below. Your feedback is important to us!
That is it for this time! We're continuously trying to find new ways to talk with you and new cool ways to make better apps. We'll keep you posted as we go along!
We love it when kids – all kids, any kids – have fun with Toca Boca toys. However, sometimes we hear stories about our apps being an actual help to kids with various difficulties – autism, learning disabilities etc. We don’t develop our apps specifically for these children, but it’s always extra heartwarming to hear about them enjoying our apps, finding help developing new skills and discovering their own creativity. This is one letter we received the other day, from Rachel Kremen in New Jersey:
I just wanted to send you an email to let you know how wonderful your apps have been for my three-year-old autistic son, Riley. Riley is the kind of autistic child who naturally has an incredible memory for facts: he could fully read at 18 months, now knows the shape and location of every country on earth, all the flags, bones in the body, etc.
Despite all this, he could not play. He did not understand the idea of a toy – any toy without obvious educational value. If you handed him a train, he would bang it or put it in his mouth, even at age two. If you handed him a doll, same thing.
Initially, we bought him apps that were academically oriented (such as geography and math quiz games), because he enjoyed them. But what we really wanted was for him to learn how to play like other children and be creative. No matter how we tried to show him how to play, he did not understand anything that did not involve the same answer every time. So, for example, he could not understand how to play with trains, answer a question about his favorite animal, pretend to feed a doll, or color.
Your apps gave him an environment that was just the right mix of open yet predictable play, so that he could explore the sorts of things other little boys and girls love. And because there is no real language in your apps, it gives us a chance to talk about what is going on, instead of him simply memorizing the lines characters say.
Best of all, he has transferred these play skills to the real world! During his play therapy, he now enjoys pretending to buy and cook food, pretending to paint his dolls’ hair and, most recently, play with a train set. He can tell us all about who is getting on and off the train, what his favorite hair color is, and what he likes to cook.
I realize you aren’t specifically making apps for the autism community, so I thought you might not even realize the kind of positive impact you have in this regard. We look forward to many new Toca Boca apps in the future and wish your company all the best.
Yo! Wondering what we”ve been busy with these past weeks? We”ve been hard at work – and play – creating our next digital toy. We can”t wait to launch it, and we hope that this teaser video will make you just as excited as we are!
Starting today, and every third day until July 30th, 2012 we’re going to give you 50% off one of our digital toys. That’s right…we’ll be offering a new deal every third day, so if you catch all the apps we’re discounting, you’ll wind up with six fun apps for your children at a great price! Make sure to check out our Facebook page regularly to see which apps are on sale.
We’re starting off with Helicopter Taxi, which you can download for $0.99 instead of $1.99 until Sunday July 15, 23.59 CET. Already own it? Use App Store’s “Gift This App” feature to give it to a friend!
Have you ever wondered how an idea find its way into a Toca Train toy and want to know more about the development process? To dig out more info, take a look at this interview with our well-talented Toca Train designer, Jens Peter de Pedro!
Hi Jens Peter Please tell us a little about yourself? I’m a half Spaniard, half Swede, married to an American. Father of two girls. I’m the Play Designer behind Toca Hair Salon, Helicopter Taxi, Toca Kitchen, Paint My Wings, and now Toca Train. Many years ago, I was a student of Child Development and a graphic designer. A lot of people call me JP for short.
What is Toca Train and what can you do with it? Toca Train is sort of like a train play set. You can drive the train around a track and pick up passengers and goods.
What inspired you to develop Toca Train, How did the idea for Toca Train come about?
Independently people had been bugging our CEO about trains. Their kids loved trains and why didn’t we do something with trains. So the question landed in our game design team. I started thinking about what it could be that makes kids love trains so much. I encountered a blog that an autistic woman had written to explain to regular folks how autistic people think. She described their thinking and at the end, to summarize her point, she said their thinking is sort of like the movement of a train, and that perhaps that is why autistic people love trains so much. I thought that was very interesting because I believe all of us have a bit of autistic thinking at times, that we all need to be in this mind state occasionally, to some degree. So I started thinking of the train and the mind moving together through a landscape and that was the seed for what became Toca Train, a stress free game about a train that always moves forward and that you can control and follow from every different angel.
What has been the hardest obstacle you have had to overcome in the development process?
Our team was rather new to the technology that we used to make the game three-dimensional. So there was a lot of learning on the go. Some lessons where tougher than others! Also, getting the interface for controlling the train right took a few tries.
And how long was the process from the original idea to the release of the toy?
It was about 6 months, perhaps 5 months of intense work.
Besides cute and adorable characters, the driver in Toca Train is particularly arousing our interest. Can you introduce him to us briefly?
His name is Kenta Karlsson. We don’t know if he is half Japanese or not, because Kenta is also a Swedish nickname for Kent. Originally his granddaughter was going to be riding with him on the coal wagon, but we had to cut her out due to time restrains in the project. I think Kenta misses her.
And finally, what are your plans for the future? Will there be any updates?
There will surely be updates. We’d like to make the world and the characters to feel even more alive. Kenta needs not only his granddaughter but he also needs to be relived from his job on occasion. We are thinking his wife should be able to drive the train too. We think they met in train driving school in the fall of 1898. It would also be fun to add bifurcations and open up new places where the train could go in the world. Perhaps there could be people cheering and waving to Kenta or his wife as the go. We’re going to see what reactions we get from our fans too, so please send us your suggestions! Thanks again for your time, JP!
For all the Toca Train fans!
Can’t get enough of Toca Train? Now, we’re thrilled to be able to give you some extra bonus material of Toca Train. And the best part of this collection is that it will be available for absolutely free. Watch this extended Toca Train trailer showing the train in action, something extra for all the little train lovers!
Toca Train map of the landscape!
Meet all the cute characters in Toca Train, check out their names!
You can download these wallpapers on your iPhone, iPad or Desktop, see them all below! To download the wallpaper, click on the wallpaper you want below. Once you get the image in your browser, simply right click on it and save it. Enjoy!
Wow. We can’t quite describe how happy and humbled we are to have been included in the Apple Keynote at WWDC. It is an amazing video that shows the difference that apps have made in people’s lives. And Toca Boca is mentioned as an example of how you can use apps as a part of speech training. A special thanks goes to Renena Joy and her great family that share their story in the video. Take a look at it below.
The multi-tiered evaluation process is as true to its integrity today as it was when Parents' Choice Foundation was established almost thirty years ago. The Parents' Choice Awards Committees evaluation process offers objectivity, respect, and expertise – and all with a sense of humor. Learning is fun – and we want kids to know that.
The Parents’ Choice Awards evaluation process is a lengthy and confidential one. We don’t offer “feedback” to producers or manufacturers because we don’t work for them. We work for parents, caregivers, librarians and educators.
Spring has finally arrived in Stockholm and the Toca Boca team is busy being really creative. We are currently working on three new digital toys. Unfortunately, the exact themes can't be revealed just yet, but we are pretty sure the toys will all be pretty amazing once we release them later this year. And what better way to celebrate everything new that is coming up than by starting a new project – a Toca Boca diary in this blog! Written by me, Paulina, the Toca Boca Community Manager.
So, what have we been up to lately?
Our CEO, Björn, has been focusing on establishing our presence and new office in San Francisco office. His schedule is already getting packed with interesting meetings, regarding ad campaigns, sponsorships, and other collaborations. As an example, we are currently sponsoring one of our favorite podcasts, Boing Boing’s “Apps for kids” with the amazing Mark Frauenfelder and his daughter and co-host Jane. Check it out if you haven’t. Björn is also the Toca Boca team’s official iPad provider. Thanks to him, a couple of new iPads are now on their way to Stockholm. Very exciting!
Emil, our producer, has mostly been assisting the rest of the team with a huge number of different things – big and small. He has provided feedback regarding the new digital toys that are being developed, helped our office manager Lina look for a new Stockholm office, planned new recruitments, had meetings with interesting people, and provided the office with great, inspirational music.
I, Paulina, have mainly been working on managing the redesign of tour official website – tocaboca.com. Smaller design changes are in the making, and an improved support section will be added. We are also planning to add a small webshop for selling Toca Boca t-shirts. I have also been browsing plenty of amazing mommy blogs and made plans for the World Autism Awareness Day, which takes place on April 2. Stay tuned!
The developers have been working on updating all our apps, making sure they all work on the new iPad. In addition, a couple of minor changes/updates have been added. Some examples: Paint My Wings, now has a “snapshot saving” setting which allows you to turn off snapshot saving. Toca Kitchen now supports more cuts, has salt and pepper shakers, and a “vegetarian food only” setting. The gift giving mini game in Toca House has been redesigned slightly, with small tags that make the activity more intuitive.
My son Leo, like most kids, glows with an awesomeness that takes many forms: he's a fierce bicycle rider, a fish-like swimmer, a walking happiness explosion, and an iPad fiend. He's also autistic, which for him means speaking is difficult (though he hears just fine), learning is unpredictable, reading is hard, other people can be confusing, and even independent play can be overwhelming.
Having an iPad helps Leo through many challenges. It's changed his life, and I don't write that casually. The touch-based interface makes interacting with the tablet computer an intuitive process, as well as very, very accessible. Leo dives into his iPad without hesitation, noticing instantly if new apps have been installed, questing, learning, having a blast. And all on his own! Without needing anyone to show him what to do! I rarely have to instruct him how to use apps on the iPad, though I do gently guide if he needs it, and keep an eye on how he's using his iDevice (Safari and YouTube and Google, oh my).
But it's not just the iPad that makes a difference, for Leo it's the apps — their content, their design, their interactive animations and sounds motivate Leo to engage, engage, engage, learn learn learn, play play play. The best apps for Leo have simple, elegantly designed, easy-to-use, structured interfaces that make learning enticing, and play extra-fun — yet are predictable enough that Leo can get familiar with them instantly while still providing enough creative bandwidth to sidestep boredom.
It's no secret that Toca Boca makes open-ended digital toys that Leo loves, and it's not surprising, either: they provide exactly the kind of well-designed iPad experiences he seeks out and obsesses over. They have funky-cool graphics and characters to draw Leo in, plus they're designed for an international audience — which means minimal text. Which means Leo's pre-reader status is not an issue. Which means, again, that he can use the toys independently! That’s a huge achievement for my boy.
Toca Boca’s digital toy apps apps are unique in that they're not really geared towards academics or pure play, but a mesmerizing third space: pretend play. Leo was never interested in pretend play before he started playing with these apps, but now he is having daily tea parties, birthday parties, giving hair cuts and colors, playing doctor pretending to cook meals, and playing house. All things he used to care less about, outside his iPad. It's fun to see him get silly and creative: giving a dog a rainbow-colored mohawk, frying up a fish and feeding it to an appreciative cat. It's even more gratifying to see the Toca cues translate to real world actions like Leo setting and clearing the table — completing said chores with much less fuss than his sisters, I might add.
Social opportunities are another lovely benefit of Toca Boca’s toys. Other kids don't always know how to play with Leo, and he doesn't always know how to play with them, but I've yet to meet a kid who didn't want to play with Toca Boca toys. When Leo is playing with them, other kids will approach him and ask if they can join in, which is tremendous — especially when it's his seven-year-old sister India. Leo is learning to get past his social anxiety and not only let other kids play with him, but learning to tolerate turn taking. I know I'm not the only autism parent who lies awake at night, thinking up strategies for encouraging my autistic child to interact socially, so watching these social connections happen spontaneously is heart-warming. Especially since Leo seems to enjoy them, too.
Possibly my favorite aspect of the digital toys that Toca Boca makes is how they encourage Leo to play independently. My enthusiasm for his solo play may seem silly to some parents, but it's a huge deal for a kid who loathes spontaneity and free-form scenarios. The toys provide the basic structure and predictability Leo craves while still providing plenty of opportunities to create. Witness the 30+ different hairstyles he created in Toca Hair Salon, all on his own. He. Is. Having. Fun.
The toys also help keep Leo occupied during one of the banes of childhood existence — being forced to go accompany his mother on endless errands. The erranding can't be helped, but at least Leo now has a way to keep himself occupied most of the time, and even when the lights go dim as during his sister's ophthalmology appointments. Too bad I can't go back in time and hand my childhood self an iPad before going carpet shopping or to the dry cleaner with my own mother.
Leo's not the only Toca Boca fan in the house, by the way. His little sister India is a vocal and unabashed enthusiast, and has a lot to say about why she likes the toys, too, particularly Toca Hair Salon:
I really just want Leo to be happy. I want all three of my kids to be happy. Finding apps that make them happy makes me happy. And when those apps also make it easier for my autistic son to share, learn, socialize, and play? Then I feel perfectly justified in slapping on a pair of rose-colored sunglasses, and declaring the world a better place.
/Shannon Des Roches Rosa
More about Shannon:
I am more than a parent, but with three kids — one of whom has autism — the current playlist has parenting on heavy rotation. I am a kick-ass writer and editor, and have been blogging fearlessly and compassionately about parenting and autism since 2003, at www.Squidalicious.com. I'm also a co-founder and editor at the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism.
This time the toy takes place in a house where five friends live together. You have to help them with their different activities and chores. The style is similar to Toca Doctor, but here we decided to explore the domestic theme instead. I think our play designer Erik Wahlgren puts in really well in our “For Parents” section:
To small children housekeeping is novel, in their eyes it´s an act of making things nice. Later in life many learn from their surroundings that it´s a dull duty. Our aim with this game is to help bringing out the fun and rewarding parts in making your home nice. We think that establishing housekeeping as something joyful early in life will be a big help to your child as he or she will grow up and eventually will have to manage a home of their own.
It's a fun, lovable toy that introduces a familiar concept. We hope you like it as much as we do.
Last Sunday, exactly 10 months after we released our first apps, we reached 5 million downloads of our digital toys for kids. We are happy, proud – but not content. You'll be seeing some amazing toys from us under 2012 – promise!