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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

April 11, 2012 at 5:40 PM

Reading Raven kids’ app soars with Apple nod

It’s not quite an Instagram moment.

But Seattle app startup Early Ascent flew toward the summit this week, after catching the eye of Apple.

In February, Early Ascent released a children’s reading app for the iPad called “Reading Raven.” Last week, Apple called it out as a “staff favorite” and it began flying up the best-seller list on iTunes where it’s generating hundreds of downloads a day.

The $3.99 app (screenshot below) is now in the top 10 paid education apps, giving it priceless visibility in the crowded iTunes app store.

Early Ascent was formed last November, but founder Scott White had been thinking about the project for some time, after getting frustrated at reading apps available for his two young children.

WordBuilding_Underwater.png

White worked at Amazon.com from 2005 to 2007, then joined a series of startups, including content discovery venture OneSpot, where he was principal scientist, and semantic Web venture Radar Networks, where he was senior architect. He hatched Early Ascent from a consulting company he uses for personal projects.

Early Ascent is more than a hacker in a coffee shop, though.

White tapped his network of friends to connect with Seattle reading instructor Jeanne Voelker. He also looped in his pal Matthew Stephens, co-founder of deviantArt.com, to work on the interface. Stephens is based in Austin, Texas, but connected White to Seattle-area game designer Aaron Jasinski.

Altogether the self-funded venture has eight employees, an office in Fremont and plans to add features such as assessments to make Reading Raven more useful to teachers.

“We’re one of the only apps on the market that has a multi-dimensional and holistic approach to teaching kids how to read,” he said.

The raven is a guide that helps lead children through different levels where they find, spell, trace and sound-out words.

Among the app’s special tricks is its ability to dynamically adapt activities based on the user’s motor skills. The app senses if a child is going slower or having a harder time interacting with objects on the screen and adjusts itself, White said.

The company also is working on a Metro-style version for Windows 8 and a version for iPhone. An Android version could come in the future. “Those are all big markets,” he said.

My 5-year-old has been enthusiastically testing the app, which she now prefers over “Angry Birds” and most apps. It’s fun and challenging enough and can be navigated without parental input.

Here’s a video provided by the company:

[do action=”custom_iframe” width=”640″ height=”480″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/uSCWwALHqWc?rel=0

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