The Gamification of Apps


APpsApps are rapidly turning into games. Obviously, apps that are already games aren’t what we’re talking about, here – instead, it’s apps that are designed without gaming in mind that are being influenced by games and their ability to incentivize the way we engage with them. These days, you’re just as likely to level up in a social check-in app as you are in an RPG – and that’s fantastic.

It has however been suggested that this may be the wrong approach – that so many apps are gamififying their mechanics to the point where it’s impossible to find a social iPhone app that works straightforwardly, rather than constantly awards you badges and experience points. While these incentives do reward users, apps should retain some level of purity, and as Ingrid Lunden states, this approach means that “many of the apps using the technique are becoming noise themselves.”

It’s true – play a session of Angry Birds and all the mechanics fit because you’re playing a game. But if you then start to find star ratings and unlocks inside your banking app, it’s not unlikely that the app will not be as efficient or fully-featured as it could be because the incentives have begun to replace the actual features.

Foursquare is definitely a service that worked very well and had a noticeable presence when it first launched, but these days it’s easy to feel that someone’s a bit odd when they’re still auto-tweeting the fact they’ve become Mayor of their local Starbucks in 2013. The reason for this is that while the app had medals and various accomplishments, it was essentially built around its gamification mechanics and offered little else – there was no real need to have a service to tell people where you were unless you were really keen on helping burglars.

The ideal approach to gamification would be to appreciate why you might need it, as if you have to give people badges and experience points to use your app, it might be worth considering that the app by itself lacks incentives for extended or regular use. Perhaps the best approach for all of these gamified apps appearing on the marketplace would be for us to only opt for those what would be great to start with, rather than ones where we’re paying for an app, just for mechanics that exist in a thousand other ones.

Gartner, the information technology research and advisory firm, recently published a report stating that gamified apps are going to fail 80% of the time if your reason for involving game mechanics in your software is purely due to novelty and hype. If all of those badges and points have no real meaning or use, then you’re just adding noise to a quiet room. These are wise words, and it’s definitely something to consider as a consumer – if you’re paying for apps, try and opt for the ones where gamification is used intelligently and really rewards you – don’t be fooled by shiny stickers.


iTunes U – A Vital Educational App


itunes uThe most astonishing thing about iTunes U when it launched was the sheer number of universities and educators who offered their invaluable insight and knowledge to iTunes users for free. Despite all the paid-for campus-based education and Open University opportunities, here were a group of educational institutions with formidable reputations placing their brains down at the feet of those who wanted to learn anything from physics to philosophy and beyond.

While the ‘U’ is of course also used by university students who had missed a lecture and needed to catch up, it also offers the general public free education in a multitude of subjects via computer or even iPhone. But the iTunes U experience has finally come into its own with the launch of the iPad App, which takes all the video, audio, written and image content and collects it into a course-specific binder for you to browse through like you would if you were sitting in the lecture hall with the genuine article.

The difference between a ring binder and your iPad, however, is that the binder can’t play video or audio from inside its pages, or access courses from other universities, like Stanford, Yale, MIT and Oxford. It also offers the resources of institutions like the New York Public Library, realizing the full educational potential of a tablet. It has now become easier not only to be a student in full-time education, but to be one in addition to holding down a day job, raising a family, or even travelling, as those who have a 3G iPad can pull down new course information on the move. Previously, we’ve published an article about things you can do with your iPad. Tom Barrett’s 100+ ways to use iPads in the classroom will really help you create a fun digital play day with your students.

It’s also an incredibly social learning experience, should you want it to be, and it’s this feature that those growing up around social media are going to be most interested in. Not only can you tweet some class notes but you can also send them to your friends via messaging and email from within the app itself, allowing everyone to stay on track, to discuss their last lecture, and to plan for the next seminar. Not a bad feature and one that’s going to prove vitally important when working on a group project or as part of a study group.

It’s also fully integrated with any relevant iOS Apps, such as iBooks, Apple’s reader app that works with most formats, from plain text to HTML5 and Javascript. This means even more media in your courses and, additionally, interactive learning. It’s an impressive suite of tools overall, and of course, bar some of the paid-for advanced courses; the entire thing is free – as education should be. You can also get the iBooks Author which allows teachers to create and to share textbooks and for students to start practicing their writing skills digitally.

Apple has always been passionate about education, so it’s no great surprise that something like the iTunes U app has come into existence. But to know that it offers such a wide range of educational materials — as well as fully integrated media, social sharing and of course, optimization for learning on your iPad — is exciting. Learning just became significantly more convenient and hands-on.