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Santa Meets Start-Up Nation

Popular Christmas apps, made in Israel

Liel Leibovitz
December 24, 2012

This is 2012. Santa doesn’t bring gifts anymore. He brings apps. Christmas apps. Christmas apps made in Israel.

Sagi Schliesser, an Israeli entrepreneur, grew up watching American TV shows. His favorites were the ubiquitous Christmas specials, those wonderfully corny spectaculars. When Schliesser started his company, TabTale, and began creating educational entertainment for children, he had Santa on his mind.

“For an Israeli,” Schliesser said, “Santa is like the attractive girl next door. You always see her, and she looks cool, but you know she’ll never be yours.”

Sitting with his partner late one night in August of 2010, Schliesser came up with an idea for an app that would help bring Santa a bit closer. He named it “A Christmas Tale,” an interactive storybook about the jolly old gift-giver that allowed kids to touch anything on the screen, complete small puzzles, or amuse themselves with other yuletide-themed mini-games. With not much time to go until Christmas, Schliesser hired a young illustrator, fresh of his army service in the IDF, and asked a partner’s wife to do the narration. And in the spirit of Christmastime chutzpah, they emailed Apple and asked them to rush “A Christmas Tale” onto their app store.

Debuting in November of 2010, “A Christmas Tale” was downloaded by nearly three quarters of a million users, and spent much of that year’s holiday season as the number one free download on iTunes. Santa fans in the UK, New Zealand, Australia, and Ireland were equally as enthusiastic, making the app a huge hit.

Realizing they were now in the Christmas app business, the TabTale crew got busy. In the two years that passed since their debut, they released a cornucopia of yuletide-themed titles, including “Elves Dress Up,” “The Piano Christmas Tree,” and the newest release, “Gingerbread Crazy Chef.” All were smash hits.

But there was one more Christmas miracle in store for Schliesser and his team: looking at their analytics earlier this year they realized that the third largest market for these Christian apps made by Jews is Saudi Arabia. God bless us, every one.

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.