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Student wins major award with mobile music app

“Openness is the way forward,” says Ilari Niitamo, winner of the Apple Design Award 2018.
Bandimal-sovelluksen avulla voi säveltää musiikkia. Kuva: Yatatoy.

“I am an MA student in New Media, set to graduate in December 2018. Our company, Yatatoy, is a bit unique. It’s more of a creative collective than a company company.

Lucas Zanotto, the founder of Yatatoy and myself were both working on another project for Hello Ruby, which I also just wrote my MA thesis about.

We worked on Bandimal for all of 2017 and released it in November. It’s a music composer for kids. You can set up a drum loop, swipe through animals to change instruments, compose melodies, change loop speeds and add effects. Kids like the animal animations that change as they make music. We tried to make the app super easy and fun for kids to use.

Our audio wizard, Ulrich Troyer, would design, compose and produce the music system and samples in Vienna. Lucas and I both worked in Helsinki. Lucas created, illustrated and animated the animals while collaborating with Ulrich to get the stylization of the instruments correct. Lucas and I would collaborate on the app design and user experience, and I would build the app. Bandimal was programmed using Apple’s native technologies.

Now we got this prize! The Apple Design Awards is an annual award ceremony, held at their yearly WWDC developer conference that celebrates great-quality apps. Essentially, they give an award to the ten best apps of the year, in their view. It’s arguably the biggest and most meaningful award you can get in the mobile business.

The awards ceremony was intense. On the first day they gave me a guest pass, and I was seated in the front during the keynote talks. Then when the awards ceremony part started, we got called up onstage as the first app to be awarded. The rest of the conference was incredible: I had interviews with media, I got to meet Apple executives at a special champagne reception, but people also came up and congratulated me out of the blue.

Afterwards, it was the most popular app in Finland, and number 1 in the Kids category in around 60 countries and top 10 of all apps in 25 countries. 

The success of Finland in app or game development has something to do with our background in technology and mobile phones, I believe. There is a basic understanding about what people need in the mobile space, what is practical and pragmatic. Also, I believe Nordic minimalism in design plays a role in this success, especially the light aesthetic touch that is common.

In the Finnish psyche there is a certain quirkiness and underdog mentality, and I think that also adds a bit of creativity to what we do. Also, we are a small country and circles here are small; you could almost say everyone knows everybody else. It’s easy to connect with people and get things done.

I believe the way forward is to embrace openness in a completely new way. The tech scene in San Francisco has done that already, they’ve gotten past wanting to keep things to themselves. The old way of thinking was: be careful how much training you give your employee, they might learn too much and leave you. Don’t talk to competitors because you might give away secrets.

When I was working in San Francisco and we came across a technology that was especially useful, we would just call the CEO of the company and go out to lunch with him. Then we would ask directly for help integrating it into our own system. I think openness is the way forward.”

Text: Lucas Millheim. Photo: Yatatoy.

This article is published in the Aalto University Magazine issue 23 (issuu.com), October 2018.

Ilari Niitamo. Kuvaaja: Lucas Millheim.
Ilari Niitamo works at Yatatoy and finishes his studies in the Media Lab. Photo: Lucas Millheim.

The Bandimal application is a music composer for children.
It is one of the most popular mobile apps this year.

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