Behind the App: Software Smoothie’s Felt Board Brings Timeless Play to iPad


Mindy Douglas, founded Software Smoothie with her husband Dave, then the pair created Felt Board, an iPad-only kids’ edu-app that recreates the open-ended play of its real life counterpart.

We reviewed and loved Felt Board (PadGadget = 4.5 stars), so we were thrilled when Ms. Douglas agree to speak to PadGadget about the creative power of play, her favorite Felt Board creations, and why it’s deceptively hard to develop an easy-to-use app.

(PadGadget): Why did you decide to create Felt Board?
(Software Smoothie): Dave and I knew that we wanted to create an app for children that encourages creative play. As former teacher and also as a parent, I have always believed that young children learn through play. A digital felt board is a great choice for a creativity app because children can mix and match all of the characters, settings and accessories in the app in a variety of ways to create imaginative scenes and stories. It is also a very versatile app in that parents and teachers can use the app along with children to illustrate stories and reinforce learning.

(PG): It seems as if a lot of thought went into creating the art for the app. How did you decide which elements to include and what those elements should look like?
(SS): We wanted the app to seem simple and easy to use, which is actually harder than one might think. When creating the art for the app, I started with some of the basics like people, clothing and simple backgrounds. The more pieces I added, the more possibilities I imagined.

Obviously the app couldn’t include every imaginable image, so I tried to create a sampling of images from a variety of themes that children enjoy like fairy tales, farm animals, space, pirates, etc. Because felt boards are often used for storytelling, I made sure that pieces were included for some popular preschool stories, songs and rhymes. The preschool teacher in me couldn’t resist adding shapes, numbers and letters because that makes the app useful in a classroom setting as well.

We tested the app with children, parents and teachers and received lots of great feedback and suggestions for the app. With each new suggestion we had to also consider our overall goals for a simple user interface and for children to use their imaginations. For this app, we decided our digital felt board should be similar to a traditional felt board, with few sound effects and no animations. It can be very tempting to add a lot of extra features, but we really wanted to stick to the essentials and let all of the real work happen in the child’s imagination.

(PG): Have there been any surprises in the way kids use Felt Board?
(SS): It’s no real surprise that kids have far better imaginations than adults, but it has really been fun to see the app used in ways I hadn’t imagined myself. I have really enjoyed seeing Felt Board pictures by children who use one prop to represent another than may not have been included in the app. Or creating pictures out of the felt shapes. One of my favorite pictures from one of my own children depicted Santa Claus flying through space riding on what looked like shooting stars. It’s also been really great to see teachers and librarians blog about all of the creative ways they are using the apps in their classrooms and story times.

(PG): What were the challenges to bring your app to market?
(SS): One of the greatest challenges has been marketing. The app stores are bursting with apps, and so many really great apps often go undiscovered. Reviewers and bloggers are swamped with app review requests, so getting the word out about a new app can be a real problem for indie developers. We are very grateful for reviewers who take the time to write about our app, as well as groups of developers like Moms With Apps and App Friday who work together to help support each other and promote family friendly apps.

(PG): Has the app been as profitable as you had hoped?
(SS): Considering how tough the app market is, we are pleased overall. Dave and I enjoy working together and started Software Smoothie as a hobby that will one day grow into a business. We don’t expect to earn a living developing apps at this time, but hope to eventually create enough apps that one day it could be possible. It is not something people should do expecting instant success. We have really enjoyed seeing Felt Board mentioned in books, blogs and on twitter and realize that people are discovering and enjoying something that we created. That is so very exciting to us.

(PG): Who are your favorite iOS app developers?
(SS): We are constantly inspired by developers from Moms With Apps and Parents With Apps. It has been great to be able to meet other independent developers who work hard to create quality apps for children and families. We love the collaboration and feeling of community from this group of developers and have learned so much from so many of them.

(PG): Has the release of the iPad mini presented any challenges or opportunities for Software Smoothie?
(SS): The iPad mini has actually been really great for Felt Board because prior to that, Felt Board has been limited to the iPad only. We were afraid some of the pieces in Felt Board would be way to small for the iPhone, so the iPad mini offers an additional format for the app.

(PG): Do you have any other projects in the works that you would like to tell us about?
(SS): We have many ideas for educational apps that we would like to try out. Often our ideas are inspired by apps we would like for our own children. We’d also like to work on a Felt Board Storytime series that focuses on one story at a time. This will allow us to go into more detail in each story and tailor each app for specific uses by children and/or teachers. Our biggest problem is juggling parenting with work time and deciding which project to start first.

Now it’s time for the speed round. It’s easy, just tell me which term you prefer:

Lightning or 30-pin? Lightning
Jobs or Cook? Jobs
Facebook or Twitter? Twitter
iPad or iPhone? iPad
Wi-Fi or cellular? Wi-Fi
Work or sleep? sleep
Pie or cake? pie

Download Felt Board for iPad from the App Store for $2.99. The app is compatible with all iPad models running iOS 4.3 or later.

About Emily: Emily is a freelance writer who loves discovering new apps whenever she can pry the iPad away from her children or husband. You can contact her via Twitter: @whatwentwrite