The Beat Goes On

Kids’ music app Bandimal is easy to play—but was hard to create.


Music composer for kids


Bandimal is a 2018 Apple Design Award winner. This award celebrates the creative artistry and technical achievement of developers who set the standard for app design and innovation on Apple platforms.

When the team behind toy company Yatatoy decided to create a music app, they had several requirements. In line with their other tech innovations, including Drawnimal and Miximal, the app had to be intuitive. It couldn’t annoy parents. And it had to sound good—no matter how children combined the bouncing, googly-eyed animals that represent the various sounds.

That’s just one reason Bandimal took two years to build, but the result is as fun for adults as it is for little ones. The app’s software writer, Ilari Niitamo, explains how the team created Bandimal in two different countries—and why milliseconds determined their success.

What problem were you trying to solve with your app?
We have this app called Loopimal from 2015 that’s a simple music sequencer. We wanted to do something a little more complex, yet still in music. Loopimal was supposed to be an open-ended plaything, but the biggest request from fans was “How do we save our songs?”

What challenges did you overcome during development?
On the programming side, the biggest issue was keeping the audio in sync—to get samples to play at exactly the millisecond they were supposed to. It was a make-it-or-break-it kind of thing, because the music wouldn’t work if we couldn’t resolve that. I had to rebuild the audio system several times.

To create Bandimal,the team still started with pen and paper. Sketches—like the concepts for buttons, sliders, and switches shown here—were then transferred to the iPad, where some drawing and drafting happened with Apple Pencil.

Your team works remotely. Is that difficult?
I’m Finnish and in Helsinki. Lucas Zanotto, who creates our visuals, is from northern Italy; he’s in Helsinki too. Our audio guy, Ulrich Troyer, is also from northern Italy and lives in Vienna.
From the beginning, each of us had a pretty clear role and set of responsibilities, so being apart wasn’t such a great hurdle. We would work independently, then come together to bounce ideas off each other and give feedback. It’s 90 percent Slack—I actually haven’t ever physically met Ulrich.

What about creating Bandimal turned out to be easier than you expected?
One thing was nice: In beta, people really didn’t have any negative comments or changes. We didn’t have to pivot a lot. It was close to being final, so that was really positive. We also iterated really fast. We would sort of discuss what could be cool and implement it for the next day. It was a natural and fun process.

For the app’s drum machine, rhythmical patterns were created with not only percussion instruments but also kitchen equipment like pots, spoons, and a cream beater. Bandimal’smusical concept is based off of ancient Greek scales, shown in the notebook here.

At what point did you realize that you could pull this off?
There were some rocky times, but for me the realization came maybe three months before release, when we got the synchronization. Because, wow, it’s actually working.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
One of the issues I’ve had in my two previous projects is that I didn’t develop the most difficult technologies early. If I’d really put time into the audio syncing in the first two months, I could have relaxed for the remaining 10. I would tell myself, “Work on the most essential features first.”

Ilari Niitamo accepts Bandimal’s 2018 Apple Design Award.

Whats next for you?
We’re doing a new project that's a side-step from music. It's this analog collaborative play that's trying to promote unity for family. It’s an easier project—technically, at least—but I can’t make any estimations for when it will be finished. I personally have a master’s thesis to write this summer!

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