FACETIME: The Explain Everything Team
Piotr and Bart
Was Explain Everything the first app you worked on?
Piotr & Bart: We set out in fall of 2009 to create the most innovative animation app for the Mac. Somewhere along the way we decided, that we really want to do it on a touchscreen device - and we ported it to iOS. The timing was perfect - when iPads appeared, we had already a working iOS version (on iPod Touch), and after many changes and improvements, we managed to publish it on the App Store in October 2010. This was our first iPad app - PhotoPuppet for iPad (the current version is named PhotoPuppet HD. Many ideas behind it are present in Explain Everything.
Reshan: I had never done anything like this before. I got in touch with Piotr and Bart from Morriscooke after I wrote a blog post about PhotoPuppet.
What inspired Explain Everything?
Reshan: I had done screencasting with students with my math classes using a PC, Techsmith's Jing, and a SMART Board. When the iPad first came out I thought it was the perfect hardware to simplify the mechanics and to make the screen casting process more accessible. I didn't see any apps that did what I wanted to do, so I ended up reaching out to Piotr and Bart to see if they wanted to work together on a project.
Piotr & Bart: We transformed PhotoPuppet into Explain Everything, adding functions that would be useful to educators. The first version of Explain Everything, released in August 2011, took just 3 months to make. But that was based on our previous work that took almost 2 years! Therefore the current version (2.11) is a product of four years of intense work. The story of how Explain Everything came to be is explained by Reshan in his TEDx talk. This also proves that Twitter is really useful!
Have you been pleased with the reception it has received?
Piotr & Bart: Yes! Since the release of version 1.0, we have gathered about 450 thousand users all around the world. We are very happy to see it even in the most remote places. For example, the School In a Box initiative in Nepal is using Explain Everything to make locally driven content: http://player.vimeo.com/video/43651358
(and the full article: http://www.digitalcreator.org/dvined/?p=1588).
We search for YouTube-published videos that are made in Explain Everything every day, and are amazed at the number of uses that the app has found. It's used by students in thousands of schools everywhere - for class projects, by teachers to make online lectures, by kindergarten kids for their funny projects, by US firefighters to prepare fire drills, in African schools to teach English, by construction companies to advertise their services, even by California nutritionists to prepare presentations. In a way, we feel ourselves as meta-teachers, providing tools to increase the level of knowledge throughout the world. It's been truly rewarding and amazing.
Reshan: Yes of course! The most pleasing feedback is when educators and students recognize some subtle things that let them know it was designed specifically for them. Our goal is simply to make a powerful and flexible tool and let smart and creative people apply it into their own contexts.
What do you feel are the key features of the app that make it stand out from similar apps?
Piotr & Bart: The main aspect that sets Explain Everything apart from other iOS whiteboard apps is that the base engine behind it comes from an animation app (PhotoPuppet). Other similar apps started from the beginning as drawing apps - and our animation-based approach just seems to work better. We think that we managed to grasp the concept of a true touch interface. We don't have mouse-like tools for selecting content. Everything can be moved by hand. We have a few totally unique features - you can insert multiple videos on a slide, play them and rotate them at the same time! You can insert a web browser and record your interaction with it. The possibilities are endless.
Apart from this, Explain Everything does everything on the iPad itself. You own all the content you create. We don't have any website that forces you to upload your content or require any additional license. All the operations including compression of projects into MP4 movies are done directly on the device itself and never leave the iPad. The same applies to end user data - it is stored locally on iPads of respective users.
Reshan: Apart from some of the technical aspects and tools, like inserting a web browser, or manipulating videos, or the many integrated services, I think the basic concept of control is something that we are very intentional about. We want users to feel like they are in control of their creations and not create complicated workarounds for being able to share work. Explain Everything is meant to fit into existing systems and environments, not create an entirely new system to manage.
Do you think the app is best suited to a certain age of student?
Reshan: I have seen students as young as 4 and professionals as old as 64 use Explain Everything. It is a challenge to design something that is intuitive, useful, and aesthetically pleasing to that range of users. We try to make the interface clean and simple, but not to the point where it becomes limiting or restrictive. I think we have been successful at that.
Are there any updates or new features planned for Explain Everything?
Reshan: All of our enhancements and updates have been informed by user feedback. I think many users who have emailed our support channel can attest to how seriously we take their thoughts and ideas, and many people have seen wish list items turned into reality.
Piotr & Bart: We update the app every 6 to 8 weeks and each time we bring in more features. The "feature queue" is quite long and we're sure that our users will like the app even more!
Do you have any new projects in development?
Piotr & Bart: We have just released a new app, geared specifically for presenters - Final Argument. It's perfect for presenting Explain Everything-created content using non-linear and mind-mapped slide structure. There are a number of features that were requested by presenters and teachers - like a clipboard invisible to the audience, switchable external screen views and more. We are working on yet another app that will use the animation engine used in Explain Everything, and we are going to take the concept even further - so stay tuned!
Guys thank you so much for all taking the time to speak with us and good luck with all your future projects.