Tinybop and a New Kind of App

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Kids playing Tinybop Plants. Photo Copyright Tinybop 2014
Tinybop Plants. Photo Copyright Tinybop 2014

“Inspired by children’s books, toys, and stop-motion films, we design digital toys that dive into the strange wonders of our everyday world,” according to Tinybop, maker of a stylish line of apps including a #1 App Store hit with their Toca Boca-style The Human Body and their new one, Plants.

I chatted with Raul Gutierrez to find out more.

GeekDad: So who are you and what kids do you have?

Gutierrez: I’m Raul Gutierrez, Founder and CEO of a company called Tinybop. We make digital toys; the first incarnation of those are apps for iOS. I have two boys who are now 7 and 9. I started the company because I was frustrated by the apps they were consuming.

GeekDad: Where were you before this?

Gutierrez: I worked for Scott Rudin and I worked at Paramount for a while and worked on a lot of movies. I build big web sites for studios. I worked in startups and as a photographer. Many hats. Everything I’ve done has always been at the intersection of art and technology.

GeekDad: Was there a tipping point that got you started in the kids’ space?

Gutierrez: My oldest was turning 6 and he offered to trade his birthday party for an iPhone. It really made me stop and consider how important this device was to him. It was literally his favorite toy. I really looked at what he was consuming, both games and educational media. There were a lot of old-fashioned ways of teaching, without taking advantage of the context. That’s what really got me started on this road.

GeekDad: Why did you decide to make toys not games?

Gutierrez: I read a lot of academic theory. I’ve watched what makes my children interested in a particular thing, and basically, when I started breaking it down, what seems absent in kids’ digital lives was a good model, like I had growing up. My dad was a doctor and I had plastic models of the human body and skeletons. I learned more by getting interested in models and having good tools to play with than with didactic learning. The Human Body app is like those old books with layers of transparencies; I was searching for a modern version of that.

GeekDad: You seem to have mastered some interesting affordances to take advantage of the medium. I note that your App Store description describes some of them: “Smart device features include: front camera to demonstrate vision, microphone to show how hearing works, photo and music libraries are accessed to demonstrate brain function, device orientation shows the effect of gravity on the body.”

Gutierrez: Here’s one example: with cameras and accelerometers in there, to demonstrate the eye, you can use the camera and have the eye on the screen react to light. I think kids are endlessly interested in the world. We’re not gamifying a set of questions which they have to learn: the deep interest comes from giving the kid something which sparks their own questions so that they can be investigating on their own. To me real learning happens in the friction between the question and the answer.

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