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A Dad’s Plea To Developers Of iPad Apps For Children

I spend a lot of time buying and testing iPad apps for kids. To be more specific, I lovingly do this for a certain two-year-old girl who is currently on a very successful #OccupyiPad mission in my house. Through extensive observational research, I’ve discovered what works and doesn’t work for my daughter, so I’m going to shamelessly generalize my findings to all children and propose four essential guidelines for developers who work on iPad apps for children.

Further Reading on SmashingMag: Link

Affordance Is King Link

Most apps for children show a bunch of different things on the screen that you can touch to make stuff happen. Cows moo, windows open and close, honey pots need to be collected, etc. But most of these apps give no indication of which elements are interactive and which are not. This usually results in a frantic and frustrating game of whack-a-mole to find the elements that actually do something.

The solution is simple: affordance5. Give the elements in question a characteristic that indicates they are touchable. The Disney Puzzle Book apps do this really well. For example, in the Winnie the Pooh Puzzle Book app, the honey pots wiggle around to show the user that they need to touch them in order to collect them.

Pagination Is A Primary Action Link

Pagination is so important to the enjoyment of most children’s apps, but it is often a quagmire. Almost every app does this differently. The most common methods of pagination are touch-based arrows and swipe-based gestures (indicated by a skeuomorphic curled-up page corner). Both of these interactions are valid solutions, but because swipes can be tricky for tiny fingers and the gestures usually require some precision, the arrow approach is much better for kids.

Also, the entire bottom part of the screen is a hot area and needs to be avoided. Kids constantly touch that part of the tablet by accident, which makes accidental pagination inevitable if the controls are placed there. I like how the Old MacDonald6 app implements pagination: clearly marked forward and backward arrows at the top of the screen.


The Menu Is A Distant Secondary Action Link

Speaking of the bottom part of the screen: don’t put any interactive elements in the bottom part of the screen — especially menu actions, which are not important anyway once a child gets going with the app. The number of times I’ve had to stop the car to dismiss a random menu brought on by an accidental touch… well, it’s dangerous. The Mickey Mouse Puzzle Book app is a good example of this frustrating practice:

PlayTales8 has a clever implementation of the menu action in many of its books. First, the menu button is placed in the top-right corner, out of accidental reach (although the top middle would be better, in keeping with the top-left and top-right pagination mentioned in the previous point).

More importantly, it uses a two-touch method to bring up the menu. The menu icon is semi-transparent in its normal state. One tap removes the transparency, and a second tap brings up the menu. Although not foolproof, it’s an excellent way to avoid accidental taps.




If You Try To Trick My Kid Into Buying Stuff, You’re Dead To Me Link

I’m looking at you, Talking Tom Cat12. A lot of apps do this, but Talking Tom Cat is the absolute worst. The screen is a landmine of carefully placed icons that lead to accidental purchases — not to mention the random animated banner ads that are designed to draw attention away from the app itself. GoDaddy’s dark patterns13 that try to trick users into buying more domains are one thing, but if you try to use persuasive design14 on my young daughter, all bets are off. Your app will be deleted, and we’ll never do business again.


Conclusion Link

Designing apps for children is extremely hard. Not only is quality, age-appropriate content hard to create, but designing the flow and interaction of these apps is made more difficult because designers must refrain from implementing advanced gestures, which would only confuse and frustrate kids (and, by extension, their parents). Yet all apps can and should adhere to certain basics. Hopefully, the four guidelines discussed here can become fixtures of all children’s apps.

(al, fi, il)

Footnotes Link

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Rian is passionate about designing and building software that people love to use. After spending several years working in Silicon Valley and Cape Town, he is currently Product Manager at Postmark, working from Portland, OR. He also blogs and tweets regularly about user experience and product management.

  1. 1

    PaintByHand for iPad was designed for kids. It does have in-app purchases but no tricks.

  2. 2

    Simon de Turck

    March 12, 2012 7:41 am

    I would like to see a possibility for developers to shut-off notification center while the app is open. Perhaps linked to the statusbar being shown or not.

  3. 4

    Excellent article. I often think of the same things when watching my children use iPad applications.

    Moonbot Studios does a wonderful job with their applications — although they keep the swiping for pagination.

    I feel like there should be a law about the integrated buy-ups in the apps. Just imagine if nickelodeon commercials had a ‘purchase’ button on them — Congress would have flipped out already.

  4. 5

    Great read. Most of the points could also apply to user interface design in general on all platforms. There’s probably not much difference between the above case and me stabbing away at an application after accidentally bringing up a menu or swiping badly to trigger something unexpected.

    Regarding children’s applications, developers should look at the great hardware (technological or otherwise) toys available. Important buttons and dials are usually within clear, but not accidental, reach and the battery compartment, reset button or safety instructions are tucked away at the back.

    The part about hidden interactive elements reminds me of all those point and click adventure games that used to force you to move your mouse over the screen endlessly until the cursor changed. This problem is also often common on even great websites. I recently showed my boss the lovely site and one of the first things she did was try to click the present in the bottom right corner and look disappointed when it didn’t do anything.

  5. 6

    Thanks for this review! The in app buying stuff is really anoying and causes frustrations because they only can get as far as they don’t have to buy anything.

  6. 7

    Awesome article, and some of the tips I never would have figured out without a child user. Thank you!! P.S. I totally want to play the Pooh app.

  7. 8

    Thank you for this. My (two year old) daughter’s favourite app has a scroll bar for pagination at the bottom in addition to the arrows. The number of times I have to move it back to her page because she accidentally touched the wrong place drives me crazy.

    • 9

      I built one of such apps and took extra care to tuck away all menus and settings in a triple-clicked menu, so toddlers can’t access it.

      Interesting article and suggestions. I’ll have to incorporate a few of the ideas.

  8. 11

    I do this same thing for my children, but on my android devices. I agree on many points, especially the last….IntelliJoy is probably the best on android that I’ve found..they even make it so my kids can’t leave the application easily…without that feature, I sometimes find my kids adding 400 character contacts to my contact list. Anyway, good read and I’m glad to see other father’s fighting the good fight :)

  9. 12

    I concur with all of this. The purchase this stuff options kills me every time. I would like to see a free kids app store meant to be used by kids so they can add their own apps. Or allow a balance for kids to buy apps on their own.

    • 13

      My kids use their iPods and my iPad as well…I remember reading that iTunes and the App store allow the creation of “Allowances” for kids purchases, but know nothing more – might be worth checking that out.

      • 14

        I like the allowance idea. I also came across one app that actually allowed me to turn off the purchasing capability from the menu. Great headache and time saver for me and my daughter.

  10. 15

    Interesting. I also like to watch my kid using the iPad.
    While not exactly an app for kids, the most annoying ever is YouTube app with it’s bottom menu.

    • 16

      My four year old amazes me with the speed at which she sussed out the ipad when she was 3. Memory games, YouTube and even angry birds (tho she struggles to actually get very far) keep her entertained on car journeys. She even happily logs into it with the 4 digit passcode and finds what she wants to do/watch herself. It really must ne an intuitive interface with memorable icons etc… I am sure I would not have picked it up like that at 3 or 4 years old!

  11. 17

    A very good advice.

    I am puzzed about the purchases. I was under impression that parental controls will take care of this. And even without enabling them, I am forced to type in my password *all the time* when updating or purchasing something from the app store.

    Maybe your 2 year old has tips how to set up my iPad properly :)

    • 18

      Why on earth would you make purchases an option for anything designed for children under 10 or 12 years old? It makes no sense. I don’t give my kid a wad of cash when we go to Target. What parent would intend their young child to purchase their way through a game? The business model seems scammy as it is dependent on children spending money without understanding and the parent not noticing until the bill shows up later, and perhaps not getting around to disputing it. Or not being allowed to.

      I play games before I give them to my son, cause I know I’ll have to explain him and rescue him from dead ends. If purchase options or ads come up, then I delete, and if I have time, I write a review advising of the issue to help others not make the same mistaken purchase. Admittedly, these sorts of issues usually come up in free or supercheap games. There was a bit of a learning curve to being able to recognize what games are likely to be good despite being cheap or free, and which to skip. websites: MomswithApps and CoolMomPicks are good at vetting games.

  12. 19

    What an awesome post… I dont have children, because I’m still one. But this post is really good! It really focus on what needs to be improved.

    And by the way, try to trick kid… ¬¬’ that’s not good, absolutely not good!

  13. 20

    I agree completely. You nailed all the points that have frustrated me about the apps I buy for my boys.
    I am so tired having to help a “Daddy, it’s stuck!” problem only to find out that the dev put in a link somewhere easy that took them to the app store.

  14. 21

    Completely agree with all of these. Although pagination in swipe form is OK in my book because my kids are used to it from the main iOS screen as they page left/right for icons (apps) they like. I wouldn’t mind in-app purchases if there was a way in the settings to COMPLETELY remove them for my kids. They simply don’t know what they’re doing and have no idea they’re being tricked. I find that tasteless.

    I would add another: multi-touch support. My kid may have his thumb on the screen preventing them from touching a button or other action. Make sure that multi-touch is fully supported and a thumb won’t prevent action from taking place.

  15. 22

    Very well said. As the father of two young boys who enjoy their iPod Touches (and my iPad), I agree completely with your observations – especially the unscrupulous attempts to ‘upsell’ by some of these software vendors. Thanks for publishing this, I hope app companies and their developers are listening. Reputation is important.

  16. 23

    I have an almost-4 year old daughter who loves playing with daddy’s iPad and I can absolutely confirm everything written in this article. Great insights for developers building apps for children!

  17. 24

    I also have a 4yo girl that uses my iPad, and also has her own iPod. I agree with all of these, but ESPECIALLY the in-app purchasing. I don’t know how many times I have caught her about to buy something or already to the point of having to type in a password.

    Possible solution: if an app is for ages 12 and below, in-app purchasing should not be allowed. Period. I know some game developers will not like this, and maybe an < 8yo would be better, but nothing ticks me off than a developer trying to trick my child into purchasing something when they don't understand what they are doing. You are basically trying to steal from me by deceiving my child. These types of developers should be banned!!

  18. 25

    Great post! Would you mind sharing a list of apps you would recommend for a 2-3 year old?

  19. 26

    Very interesting, when designing and testing our app for children . Only activating the menu after tapping twice is a very good idea that never occurred to us, I’ll certainly consider that.

    We also found that children tend do push the home button (both on purpose and not) rather often. While every decent app should save state and be able to resume, for children apps it’s imperative.

  20. 27

    I’m still looking for a children’s iPad app that can read one word at a time (not the full sentence). Does anyone know of any? I have tried many including a Disney one but all of them read full stories which is not what I need.

    Correct comment on the “in app purchase” even though I’ve that completely turned off on my daughter’s iPad. She uses the iPad for communication mainly.

    • 28

      Sean, have you tried any of the Dr. Seuss books available on the iPad? The “read to me” option in them highlights the words as they are read.

      The Silly Sentences apps from Abitalk also have a section where the words in the sentences are read as they are touched.

  21. 29

    Brennan Knotts

    March 12, 2012 7:59 am

    Having looked at over 1,000 educational apps for kids 3-6 years old (I run an educational app store for iOS devices called KinderTown, it’s what we do), we have noticed these same mistakes and more (like requiring reading for an app directed at a 4 year old), but there are a lot of developers who just nail it. We recommend checking out apps by Peapod Labs and Toca Boca as a start.

  22. 30

    Could you make it so that the glass on the ipad doesn’t break when my kid drops it.

    Thank you.


  23. 31

    What would be really useful are categories for small kids, or further subcategories of the ‘Education’ category. Perhaps separated by age, so you’d have 2-3yr old categories, 3-4 yrs, 5-6, etc etc.

  24. 32

    Thanks for this article. As a fellow Dad, It illustrates some things that I agree with also, like not using apps that deliberately try and trick kids. As a developer, it has some good points on what to do vs. what not to do. Thanks again.

  25. 33

    As the father of an iPad-loving 2 year old girl myself, I couldn’t agree more. Additionally, it’s really valuable to have a no-ads version of any given app. I’m happy to pay a few bucks to eliminate advertisement banners that pull my daughter out of the app.

  26. 34

    One of the best menu protector I’ve seen so far is from the application “BabyTV” (there’s a free app if you want to try). In order to get out of the video that’s playing, you have to press a bottom on the bottom left corner. The trick is that you have to leave this pressed for 3-5 secs. Then a menu (pause, stop, skip) appears for again 3-5 secs. If you press the stop button, then you can go back to the main menu. But if you don’t this menu disappears again and you need to press for 3-5 secs again. Well throught out.

  27. 35


    I hear you sir. I recently released an iPad app called Aeir Talk ( to help children learn new words and communicate with their parents. What I saw on the app store was a lot of apps that were lacking, and in the case of my two boys who are affected by Autism, the apps specifically for them were difficult to use, and expensive. So I just made one that didn’t suck and was affordable ($4.99).

    We also found that while we were building it, that children would get into the setup menu (where pictures and the recorded voice of the parent were added) and mess a lot of things up. So we made it more difficult to get into that menu by pressing the “Setup” button and the “Please” button on our interface at the same time. This might be too difficult, but we’re working on better ways.

    Anyway, great article. I’ll be blogging about this later because our entire design philosophy revolved around these 4 points in one way or another. :) Thanks!

    Joe Hill | @vintagejoehill

  28. 36

    Corey Menscher

    March 12, 2012 9:23 am

    DuckDuckMoose (creators of the Old McDonald app mentioned in the article) also allows parents to completely hide configuration controls in some apps. For example, in the Wheels on the Bus app you can hide the button to change the music (Male, Female, Instrumental, other languages, even a baby’s babble). This application setting can only be found in iOS Settings, so there’s virtually no way my toddler can disable it. I wish all apps had the ability to hide or customize menu/configuration controls. Hell, I’d even love a way to disable the home button…or require a patterned sequence of presses to exit!

  29. 37

    My niece loves Talking Tom Cat (and Dog) and I’ve purchased both in the hopes that it will eliminate all the ads and popups.

    Unfortunately that’s not the case. Every now and then the app will popup something and obviously my nice (3yrs old) will click it.

    I stll keep the app since she loves it but I figured if I paid for it, I at least deserve something that isn’t intrusive.

  30. 38

    A plea to parents purchasing iPad Apps for children:

    If you see that an app has a $99 in-app berry purchase, don’t download or buy it.

    Do a small bit of research to see if the app was designed with your child’s age in mind. Buy apps from trusted sources

    If you buy more of the good stuff, there will be more good stuff to buy!

  31. 39

    i read, i enjoyed, i agreed.

    I think there is a bigger lesson here. I would say that there is not much of a difference between the way an iPad savvy kid uses the device and a not so savvy adult. Similar design principles apply. Not always but it is a good consideration in design. I even think having two or more complexity profiles is awesome. The new Gmail is really good at this. I love the concepts of comfortable, cozy, and compact. Their purpose was more of space conservation, but the lower amount of artifacts in the window made it more accessible to my Mom. I think the concepts in this article would make iPad stuff more accessible to her too.

  32. 40

    After dealing with a lot of the same issues with apps for my kid, I decided to start writing my own. One problem I ran into is having buttons anywhere on the screen leads to it getting pushed. Still trying to figure out how to hide those, but still offer those features so the adult can exit the app or change settings.

    In case anyone is interested, I’ve released these apps under bluedroidkids on the android market. Check them out and leave me some feedback on how to make them better.

    • 41

      Hi Kent,

      A couple of approaches I’ve seen:
      1) Press and hold a button to get to the settings screen — yep kids can still do this accidentally, but if it’s in a secondary location (top of screen), it’s less likely.
      2) Settings screen outside the app (iOS)
      3) Make it easier to press the button that goes to the game, rather than the settings (make it more attractive, bigger, etc). Some dev’s make the settings/parents stuff almost camouflage by using a simple text link near the very top corner of a main menu.
      4) Multi-touch . Make them touch in two or more places on the screen simultaneously to access settings.

      We’ve mostly stuck with #1 and #3 in our apps, although in one app we went with #2 for resetting player profiles (to make it a little more difficult for bro/sis playing same game to ‘accidentally’ delete each others’ profiles).

    • 43

      One toddler app I downloaded requires you to touch the corners in clockwise order (you can start from any corner) in order to unlock it and access the settings. There’s another idea.

  33. 44

    I’m both an app developer and a father of kids aged 2 and 6. My developer self very much appreciates these tips and my dad self agrees with them wholeheartedly.

    Here are a few more for fellow app developers:

    – Support multi-touch and then ignore the touches that don’t matter. The most frustrating thing for my 2-yo is putting one hand (or palm) on part of the screen and trying to touch something else that doesn’t work.

    – Corollary: allow multiple ways to navigate. The author mentions buttons. I’d really like it if you could navigate via buttons, touch zone along edges, or swipe actions, and then have a setting where we can pick which one works for our kid at that stage in their development.

    – Undo. Unintended actions should be easily reversible.

    – Timers. Allow parents to specify how much time can be spent in the app. Our kids get 20-min a day of iPad time.

    – Ads in kids apps are EVIL! Especially banner ones. Charge extra if you have to. If the app is good I’ll happily pay.

    – Same with in-app purchasing. I totally agree with the author. Any app targeted at small kids with in-app purchasing better have it buried somewhere hard to reach and even then double and triple password protected so only parents can authorize them.

    – Variance: an app gets old really fast unless each time the child touches something, it does something slightly different.

    – Accessibility: support kids with visual or hearing impairment. It’s not that hard to implement and you’ll be expanding your customer base.

    – Please, no splash screens or startup menus. Small kids do not have the patience to sit through a 15-second promo video for the software publisher. Having to start something via a startup menu means a parent has to be involved each and every time the app is launched.

    – Support app backgrounding. Can’t tell you how many times my kids accidentally hit the ‘home’ button and exit the app, then come running over. It’s really not that hard to support backgrounding so the app maintains state and when brought back to the foreground just picks up where it left off.

    – Volume control: please have mercy on the rest of us. Let us set a maximum volume for music and sound-FX.

    – Finally: if you put device rotation or shake input in an app targeted at small children, be prepared to get a bill for the smashed iPad screen :-)

    • 45

      Amen! I was hoping someone would mention the multi-touch issue. My younger kids often grip the device without regard to whether or not they are touching the screen. This leads to frustration with most of the apps I’ve seen out there as the child is no longer able to interact with the app as intended.

    • 46

      A note to the non tech savvy about app backgrounding – Only the last generation or two of Apple devices (the ones that shipped with iOS 4 or later) support this at the device level. In other words, it’s not the app developer’s fault if you have to restart from scratch on your 3rd Gen iPod after accidentally hitting the home button. The iPod itself doesn’t allow it.

      An easy way to see if your Apple device allows it (if it’s not brand new) is to double-click the home button while on one of the home screens. If the quick launch bar slides up and reveals other icons, then your device supports backgrounding. If nothing happens (or if the double click opens an application), then your device doesn’t support it.

  34. 47

    Spot-on analysis, Rian. The iPad is an awesome tool for younger children (and, BTW, for older folks and those not so computerate), so UX for nontraditional users will only become more important. We’re only scratching the surface here… Imagine what can be unleashed when developers start really leveraging the iPad’s features? Going beyond tactile into better use of sound i/o, accelerometer, third-party accessories, multi-screen assemblies, gestures, true interactive video & AR, etc. Exciting times ahead!

    BTW, what did your daughter think of Flying Books? My kids loved it.

    • 48

      Rian van der Merwe

      March 13, 2012 1:26 am

      Flying Books is great, but she might be a little young for it – there’s not consistency in navigation and what can be touched, so it’s a game of find and explore… Keen to try it again once she’s a little older.

  35. 49

    Nick Gassmann

    March 12, 2012 11:24 am

    THIS! -> “If You Try To Trick My Kid Into Buying Stuff, You’re Dead To Me”

  36. 50

    Chris Rittersdorf

    March 12, 2012 11:31 am

    Mutually Human recently posted an article which delves into the topic of mobile children’s games:

    Simple Pure Interaction.

  37. 51

    Nice. It never ceases to amaze me how many apps for kids are useful only with adult supervision (and not just because of in-app purchases, which, by the way, are easy to turn off in your settings, as is the option that allows those little fingers to delete apps, pretty useful).

    Do note that I blame Apple for this and other issues (e.g. prohibitively expensive in-app purchases, no “undo sale” option like google market, notifications interrupting game play, home button which closes app, no way to lock a kid into one application unless you jailbreak the device, and last but not least, some form of multi-user features that would allow me to provide a custom home screen to my kid based on the password entered or selection of a name/icon/picture)

    Just a little praise… We love your interactive alphabet. Bought at least 100 children’s apps, but there are very few gems. Yours is one of them. Duck Duck Moose has several. I will immediately check out your other apps and Toca Boca based on your recommendation.

    Our all time #1 app for is Monkey Preschool by THUP Games. My 3yo loves their Monkey Math school title as well.
    Perhaps off-topic, but I also recommend Little Sky Writers by Dano LLC and Montessori Crosswords by By L’Escapadou.
    A good example of titles that look pretty but fail miserably are those by Montessorium (which is ironic, as they are supposed to be used by kids experimentally and by themselves).

    • 52

      Thanks again for the Toca Boca stuff. She’s been tea-partying, cutting hair and cooking dinner all afternoon!

  38. 53

    Christian Larsen

    March 12, 2012 12:29 pm

    Great article. I am a developer of kids apps and think you nailed it on the head. And I must say, I already practice all of your suggestions!

    Check out the “Treble Clef Kids” music series for excellent piano and music theory apps. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised!

  39. 54

    Jeremiah Nunn

    March 12, 2012 12:40 pm

    I just really hope people on here are genuinely upset about apps that trick their kids into spending money, and not instead upset that a decent quality app said “Free”, but then wanted money to allow you to play beyond the demo. In-app purchases are a great way to allow users to try the app before buying it, including apps for kids. This is a much more ethical way to do business, in my opinion, then tricking you into buying the app from the beginning with my polished screenshots (that give no indication of how good the app actually is.)

    • 55

      In my case, I’m not complaining about upgrading to a no ads version, or to get past the sample game. It’s games with add ons (like the costumes in the example) or ads for other products by the designer which toss you out to the app store if you don’t know /aren’t coordinated enough no to tap them.

      If the point to of the game is to acquire bits and pieces, there’d better be plenty of bits and pieces included. If my kid can’t really do more than examine the idea without me needing to spend more money, it’s not happening.

    • 56

      Rian van der Merwe

      March 13, 2012 1:28 am

      All the children’s apps I have are paid apps, so I don’t have a problem with paying and supporting developers. My problem is indeed with tricking kids into buying stuff without knowing what they’re doing…

  40. 57

    Larry Silverman

    March 12, 2012 1:06 pm

    You’ve struck a nerve here, popular post! Congratulations.

    I think we can take Apple to task here for not recognizing the educational potential of the platform. They could make it much easier for parents to safeguard the iPad. Apple used to have such a passion for education.

    I’d like to certainly see in-app purchase lockout, as others have mentioned.

    More importantly, I’d like to be able to lock the iPad in “child mode”, where only those apps I designate are accessible before I hand the iPad over to my two-year old. I’d like to safeguard my email from accidental deletion, among other things.

    • 58

      Sherry Willhoite

      March 16, 2012 9:10 am

      Totally agreed here. I really don’t understand why Apple hasn’t created better parental controls. I see a couple of options here…

      1) A simple locking mechanism – a la passcode – where I can launch an app and lock the device in only that app. If the child clicks the HOME button, nothing happens or it displays a prompt. I can assign a multi-gesture to disable this state or even better, use this gesture to bring up the passcode screen where I can disable this state after entering my code.

      2) Seems a little more complicated, but not by much…setup a parental control app, when I launch that app, the phone is set to only access the apps I’ve designated as available to my kids. Again, have some type of multi-gesture, or go back into the parental app, use my passcode to disable the state and let me use my device as usual.

      Ultimately, I’d love to have both. When my kids were younger, I would have preferred #1 and now that my kids are older, I’m okay with them switching apps as long as they are the ones I’ve designated as okay.

      Finally – PLEASE – make it so that I can put some controls around the YouTube app since I can’t delete it. Seriously, it’s like crack for kids to want to go to that app and watch videos, but I’m certainly not comfortable with them searching around and seeing all of the seedy stuff that’s on the site.

  41. 59

    Great article. I couldn’t agree more. I have had to turn off the ability to swipe to next app and the menu at the bottom of the screen because my 6 month old keeps scrolling to the next app by accident. On an app on my android phone the normal menus and back button are switched off until a specific sequence of actions is performed.

    • 60

      Six month old? Really?

      I’m an old parent! My kids are 27 and 5. Yes, 22 years difference. It didn’t occur to me to hand my 6 month old my cell phone 5 years ago though I saw children with parents younger than I chewing on cell phones and punching buttons on presumably locked phones all the time. We bought a toy phone that we carried as faithfully as our own. He still plays with it in fact.

      If I had a 6 month old now it still wouldn’t seem right to hand them electronics worth several hundred dollars when they are easily entertained or distracted by actual baby toys. My 27 year old is pregnant though. I expect she will do exactly as you do!

      Not until he was three and all the grown ups he knew had upgraded and traded off various gadgets and phones resulting in an unclaimed iTouch was our son given electronics to play with! Even now, that iTouch is mostly a ‘radio’ in the kitchen and only carried along for his entertainment on major travels. We each have games and stories on our phones and the iPad, but he is rarely given those without an adult nearby. Partly because there are few games that don’t require some sort of assistance every few minutes, and partly because I’m old and think of these things as too expensive for a child to be left alone with!

      • 61

        I agree it is not a good idea to give ipad or phone to a 6 months old. My son wanted to play with these when he was 6 months old but we managed to keep it away from him for more than a year. Now at 2 years, he is addicted to angry birds (though not playing well) and you tube. He likes it better than his other toys which is worrying to us. We are now trying to engage him in other ways so that his mind lives more in real world than digital world.

  42. 62

    Jennifer Burroughs

    March 12, 2012 2:14 pm

    I agree with these four simple ways that application designers can make the apps better for our kids. I have two boys (4 & 2). Both have problems with finding the interactive portions, the menus at the bottom lead to me having to intervene and find where they where in an app. And please for the love of god don’t you DARE put a place where my toddler can “accidentally” make a purchase. I will delete and not buy another product from you. Thank you for posting four things that can help my kids and others use applications better.

  43. 63

    I totally agree! And that cat is dead for us too. :D It made my child so frustrated that it was doomed to be deleted. An excellent app worth citing that incorporates all the great features mentioned above and supports multi-touch too is Little Miss Muffet HD. My daughter adores it!

  44. 64

    Thanks for a great article!

    For our Interactive iPad Book to inspire the love of reading in kids ages 4 to 10 – Elfishki and the Giant Cake, we put pagination on the bottom rather than the top, to deal with the Menu being a secondary issue (the home bottom is hidden on the top right).

    Do you think it’s ok, or should we make an effort to move the pagination to the top as suggested?


  45. 65

    Absolutely… spot on… great insight… and thanks for sharing. Do we need an official working group to “officialize” these best practices or can common sense and decency just simply prevail?

  46. 66

    Sue Drouin M.S., CCC-SLP

    March 12, 2012 4:49 pm

    I couldn’t agree more. As a SLP I find that many apps would be great for my students with special learning needs except for the design flaws you mentioned. These flaws are a deal breaker. Thanks for highlighting them so well, let’s hope developers hear you, Sue

  47. 67

    Tim from IntuitionHQ

    March 12, 2012 6:21 pm

    Great read. I laughed with “all bets are off” if you tried to make your daughter by something. Designing something for kids is so hard. Especially for young kids. Your article gives a good overview of things that need to be done when designing an interactive book on ipad. Thanks

  48. 68

    I recently wrote a post about thein-app purchases in kid’s apps, it is really important to turn off that option – sadly not everyone knows there is a way to do that.

    About the first point, affordance, I had this insane moment when we first downloaded the new Toca Boca House app (and we usually love the Toca Boca apps), where I was sure that more things should be interactive. There are several little games in a “building”, and I was sure that the porch, the roof and the hills in the background looked like they have a game behind them. But no. Very confusing.

  49. 69

    Adriaan Fenwick

    March 12, 2012 11:07 pm

    Great article, I wasn’t expecting to read about this kind of app development, it was refreshing to have something a bit different. This was a delightful surprise as I have been thinking about the exact same thing around how developers and designers are observing the children that are using these apps.

    I’ve got a 2 year old little boy who loves playing with the apps on my iPad and from my observation I wish the apps would:

    1. Only fire one click event when there are animals making noises or dancing so that he can actually see or hear what the animal does, and once the animation sound completes then enable the click/touch event again. (There’s nothing worse than a mooing cow trying to make a noise over and over).

    2. Not sure if an app can control this, but when my little boy plays with apps I have to switch off multi-gestures, because while he interacts and swipes he often uses more than one little finger which means that he flips through different apps, etc.

    3. I agree 100% on selling stuff as it interupts the whole experience and can diminish those valuable iTune credits :)

    Thanks for the awesome article Rian.

  50. 70

    Better yet, don’t get your 2 year old hooked on the iPad at all.

    Run around outside. Play with a wooden train, or a doll. Read real books that don’t hurt your eyes. Talk. Play. There will be MORE than enough time to master all things with screens in the coming years.

  51. 71

    Nice article and good points, Rian. Going to change the pagination button location to the top in our games now :)

    As for the in-app purchases/links to the appstore – usually it is expected not to put them into the purchased apps (at least the ones for kids). It is a pity that someone still includes it even after the app has been purchased.

    At AppsAndKids we do not put in-app-purchases or ads into the payed apps, however at the moment we have an “Upgrade” link in the “Lite” apps. I think this option can be justified though… “Lite” apps are usually for checking out, not to actually play :)

  52. 72

    Susan Lombaard

    March 13, 2012 1:39 am

    I’m a mom of a 5 year old app junkie. On the flip side of the coin, I’m involved with the development of apps specifically for children (the management of the development process done by a development house). Believe me, I’m also frustrated with in-app purchases and ads in apps. However, keep in mind that app developers have to cover their costs in some way. I’m purely talking from a South African and also an Afrikaans perspective. As our target group is Afrikaans children, and we’re planning some exciting Afrikaans apps for this target group, we’re not in the privileged position that our app will be bought all over the world. We’re limited to Afrikaans-speaking Iphone/Ipad users in South Africa. The cost of developing a single app is huge. If I get away quite cheap with the development, and my selling price is $1, I have to sell 3750 apps only to cover my development costs. For a language with approximately 6 million users, of whom only a fraction probably owns smart phones, it’s almost impossible. This implies that we have to have an alternative source of income to make it worth our while. Ads, and also the selling of our other apps, is the simplest way to do this. I agree that there’s a balance and that Tom Cat is way over the top. But please keep in mind that costs have to be covered, especially in the case of apps designed for smaller target groups.
    I’ve been in the publishing business for 12 years. I can assure you, when you buy a magazine, you’re only paying for a fraction of the production costs – maybe 10%. The rest is made up by advertising income. Imagine demanding that a magazine drops all its ads and fills its pages with editorial content. You’ll then have to pay ten times what you’re currently paying. Instead, you have just gotten used to the ads in your magazine, and sometimes, you even buy the advertised products. Apps are no different.

    • 73

      COVER THE COST ?? I thought only drug dealers and governments were using that excuse! :P

      Just a quick note to specify that we are talking about apps for kids! Even though everything you’re saying is right, To my opinion, it doesn’t apply to apps targeting kids! A business owner wanting to “cover the cost” by tricking kids into payments with their parents money is a crook!… to me!

      In this particular case, “cover the cost” would mean rise the price or change your business model!
      Going from an in app purchase app to a series of app is, to me, more logical when targeting kids!
      The game series are a good way to create momentum and limit the app cost and features in practical way, leaving the parents a choice! Ask the angrybirds ! :P
      Be creative when targeting my son and my wallet! Being greedy will just make me an AngryDad… :P

      And as for the comparison with the magazine industry, Pleaaase! We are talking about adults then.
      And by the way, I still buy magazines for their editorial quality, not to get some more paper on my desk! So Yes ads, but no magazine ever asked me to purchase extra “looloo”, or whatever, to read the end of the article or tricked my kid into buying 29,99$ worth of food for my hungry fish who was programmed to be on the verge of death after 12 minutes of playing!

      HO! And Rian… Very good Post by the way! :P Thxs

      • 74

        Seriously, Xavieryz? I mean, the point of this article is very clear (and I agree), but Susan has a good point as well, and provides some really good arguments. And, I can assure you, she is right. A balance has to be found, and that’s precisely what she says. So please, do not just saying someone is talking crap just because you do not agree with them, and seriously, where on earth did you get the idea losing money on children’s apps should not be a problem just because it are children’s apps? I mean, Susan (and a lot of others) need to live too.

        So basically I agree with (almost) all of the comments and the article, don’t forget that. I DO think it is arrogant and offensive to invasively try to sell stuff to young children. But I also think Susan has a point that needs to be respected: app developers can not just spend time (and money) like your kids are some kind of charity. The comparison with the magazine industry is a good one, and if creating children’s apps would mean too little revenue could be made, there would be a VERY little amount of apps compared to what we have today.

    • 75

      Hi Susan,

      Lekker om van ‘n mede Afrikaner te hoor. Het julle al Afrikaanse kinder apps waarna ek kan kyk?


  53. 76


    March 13, 2012 11:14 am

    The huge flaw with interactive kids books, is that kids don’t listen to the story. They interact with the screen alright, but they miss the story in the process. The way these interactive stories should be is that the interactive part ought to be engaged once the page is completely read.

  54. 77

    I’m with you on all of these. My daughter has a Disney princess dress-up app that also has the annoying menu touchpoint in the bottom-right. It’s also slow to respond which makes her impatiently tap it multiple times sending the app into confusion.

    I will say that accidental app purchases don’t happen ever for us. We only use apps that use local storage and data so every time my daughter (3 1/2) uses the iPad it is on Airplane mode. I also made a habit of checking for email drafts in my outbox before turning Airplane mode back off. I’ve had a few app emails sent to friends/clients because of coloring book apps with sharing features etc.

  55. 78

    Hello, Thanks for sharing your observations! I found your article via MomsWithApps this morning and can only say that what you wrote resonates a lot with what we experienced as parents and try to do as publishers of ebooks apps – with perhaps the exception of “affordance”. Let me explain…
    We worked very hard to simplify the navigation of kids (who may not be able to read yet) within our first app and improved our communication with regard to our privacy policy for the new version of our app “Shape Up”. We also thought a lot about making the animations within the story easier to find but not too overbearing – eg. animations taking the spotlight away from the original illustrations and text of Cecile Eyen, the artist we worked with on this project.
    We took that decision at the risk of frustrating our little users. However, our daughter is now 5 years old and quite savvy with apps. The outcome is that she would usually not give a second look at an app that does not enable new discoveries every and each time.
    That’s where we shamelessly generalized our observations to all children too ;-)
    I greatly appreciated your article and thank you for sharing your thoughts with all of us! I will certainly keep track of your tweets in the future ;-) That’s great food for thought.
    Thanks, Odile in name of the team

    PS: special answer to Jorge.. LOL – as mere app publishers, we can’t do much about the iPad itself but we recently listed protective cases for children on our website and facebook page… if that can help ;-)

  56. 79

    Chris O'Shea

    March 13, 2012 3:53 am

    I agree strongly with this point
    “If You Try To Trick My Kid Into Buying Stuff, You’re Dead To Me”

    Smurfberries have set a bad standard and killed any trust from parents in IAP.

    But what if there is additional content, for example books in a kids book reading app, or vehicles in a toy app, that parents can buy for their kids in a separate hidden screen? (or tricky to access screen such as press and hold buttons). What if you never show kids that additional content, so they never know what is missing?

    I’ve just released my first app (Makego) aimed at kids and parents to play together, and I face this dilemma also.


  57. 80

    Another chief complaint I have for the iPad/iPhone/iPod is the option to lock screens while watching a movie. There has to be someway to cleverly lock the screen in movie mode so a toddler can’t touch the screen constantly and stop the film or hit the home button and end the movie.

    I can’t tell you how frustrating it is when every 2min in the back of the car I hear, “Papa! what happened?”. It’s frankly just silly. There has to be a way.

  58. 81

    Ricardo Esteves

    March 13, 2012 4:59 am

    Hello Rian, I’m a brazilian graphic designer and my studio worked on a App designed for children. We are happy to find that our app followed the guidelines you thought and we’d like to share our work with you. I hope you find interesting, and if you need anything you can contact me. Thanks!

  59. 82

    No ipad for my kids. Or television for that matter. They read books in their free time, and lots of them. If you don’t care about your kids reading, then go on and keep buying apps for the ipad.

  60. 83

    I am just echoing the message from many here that the last point is key. Some apps, especially the one mentioned, are so blatant in trying to trick kids into in-app purchases. Fortunately, you can turn this option off for all apps – here is an post I found off google for instructions.
    What I really want is to be able to password protect my phone, text, calendar and email so my kids stop sending gibberish texts to the company CEO. ;-)

  61. 85

    All great points.

    I wish the iPad would allow different user settings with parental controls. My daughter knows how to get to her user page on the iMac that I have restricted to certain apps and websites. If the iPad could do it, I’d be one happy dad.

  62. 86

    Jessica Muniz Witmer

    March 13, 2012 6:02 am

    Great article! I designed a bilingual app for children to learn animals in English and Spanish of various habitats of the world — AnimalHive. I found some interesting insights as well during the process.

    » Sound is important – young kids can’t read, so audio becomes very important for instruction, response of interaction and added fun.
    » Kids will explore – to the point above, kids most likely won’t read the instructions, but will just start clicking around (also the point, of not making things become wack-a-mole), keep the UI clean and simple.
    » Give a prize – I designed the app with just three primary areas (Animal, English, Spanish), but realized they want to get a prize at the end of the ‘task’. Give ‘um a clap or a sticker for garsh sakes!

    Let me know what you think! I also shared some of my process work there too.

  63. 87

    Rafael Schwartz

    March 13, 2012 6:20 am

    “The number of times I’ve had to stop the car to dismiss a random menu brought on by an accidental touch… well, it’s dangerous.”

    I disagree. You *choose* to endanger your family to dismiss a random menu on a child’s game screen. You may want to reassess your priorities.

  64. 88


    Nicely done!
    My only question is why “professional” software developers don’t already know these things.

  65. 89

    Not sure if it’s been mentioned or not, but instead of a two-touch, or triple-tap, etc to be used…
    Why not use gestures to bring up the main menus, such as a 3-fingered triple tap. This should enable adults to bring up the main menu, prevent little hands from accidently triggering, and also doesn’t interfere with the UI at all… I know if I gave my 3 year old an app, he’d be curious about anything that can be touched, and like your example, if a tap changed something from semi-transparent, to opaque, it invites the extra touch to see what else it does.
    A good example of this is the iTorch4 app for the iPhone, which has a hidden seasonal bonus UI by double-tapping with 2 fingers.

    I also hate the idea of in-app purchases, solely designed to trick kids.
    One I recently came across has a form of currency you had to earn in the game performing tasks, but there was also the ability to BUY this currency, with the real-money purchase screen almost identical to that of the in-game purchase screen.
    These blatant tricks need to stop, and I would urge apple to reign them in sooner rather than later when they become more widespread.

    Great Article

  66. 90

    You realize of course that all of this applies to Android apps just as easily, even though the powers that be stick an Apple logo on anything resembling an App discussion :)

    I agree with your four points, but what I really want is something to disable the home button — something like the equivalent of “always” on top from video players on desktops or a TSR equivalent that disables the home / back / menu buttons on Android unless you click your heels twice or something.

    My son’s fine motor skills are not that “fine”, even with therapy, and he constantly hits those extra buttons when he rests his fingers or knuckles or palms on the side of the screen. We haven’t let him play in the car yet, so I haven’t put others lives at risk, but stopping the stroller to fix it or going across teh room to get it going again is annoying…


  67. 91

    Mikael Wehner

    March 13, 2012 8:34 am

    Good post. I agree with most of your points. However, the search is half the fun. I wouldn’t hint everything interactive if it wasn’t completely necessary. If you don’t want whack-a-mole, don’t give your iPad to your kid. And I’m not sure you should teach kid bad navigation because kids has bad fine motor skills (I’m not considering arrows bad navigation). A little bit of struggle might just help their fine motor skills instead. But avoiding help from parents is a valid point.

  68. 92

    Great post Rian. As a developer of Preschool apps, we are doing our best to take as much care as possible when developing our products.

  69. 93

    Fair enough :)

  70. 94

    As a father of 4 (3 are under the age of 4), I can never find a suitable app for the youngest kids that is interactive and simple. The drawing apps always require a fine touch and they lose interest quickly, and the other games require reading and they cannot yet read. I’m not against paying for apps but I do agree, tricking my kids into buying “add-ons” for a game is a bit shameful and frustrating. BusyPadApp is one that that reminds me of toys you might find while waiting for the doctor or dentist – little puzzles all combined into one.

  71. 95

    Imagineer Mobile

    March 13, 2012 2:57 pm

    Thanks for a great article! Your points match with the feedback we’ve had for our apps, and have helped us greatly in making some decisions for our next app.

  72. 96

    So what are your best recomendations of your kids favorite apps then ?

  73. 97

    Please check out the CRANKAMACALLIT in the app store. It costs a bit more, 4.99, but it’s worth it. My daughter wrote it with her son (age 4 at the time) and it was designed with a friend of hers. It’s really cute, interactive, does strange fun things! It’s narrated by Uncle Rock. Kids love it and even adults like it!

  74. 98

    Another good one, at least for apps aimed at 4 and under, is to have the game self-propel – in otherwords, if you are supposed to page through, have it automatically go to the next screen after 5 10 seconds or something like that.

    Call the bad parent police but sometimes I use kid apps to amuse my daughter while I try to keep my eyes shut for 5 more minutes in the morning, and I especially like the apps that do this.

  75. 99

    Don’t forget the educational factor…I only keep a minimum of mind numbing kid’s games, but throw in any kind of spelling, simple math, reading prompts, phonics, or cultural facts while making it fun and *rewarding*…you’ll be making me and my kid happy.

    • 100

      Valerie Touze

      May 14, 2012 7:13 am

      Sophie, Have you tried apps by Les Trois Elles Interactive? They are designed by Montessori teachers; they include educational contents, beautiful graphics, rewards and lots of fun!

  76. 101

    Really great stuff.Nice iPad application for children.

  77. 102

    Nice iPad application for children.Thanks for sharing.

  78. 103

    Michael Dobler

    March 14, 2012 2:16 am

    Thanks for sharing your insights with us, Rian. Although most of the apps for kids have some usability tripping hazards it is nonetheless amazing to see how intuitively and playful the youngest gamer go with it. Like my 2 1/2 year old daughter, who brings cows and chickens into their virtual bed without no further explanation. What is really a no go, and Apple should try harder not letting such apps into the store, are games with fraudulent intent.

  79. 104

    Wow, hit the nail on the head with some of these…especially the in-app purchases.

    My 2.5 year old son LOVES his Elmos ABCs app but recently it was updated to include In-App Purchases…we downloaded the $5 paid app, not the free one. I am guessing it is more coloring pages or videos, whatever…I DO NOT like this and have not updated. I want to be able to turn them off. I HATE banner ads and won’t mind purchasing an app but if I do, make in-app purchases a “hidden” setting feature.

    I like the idea of consistent page turning…or options to switch out the style as noted above. And I hate the ones that have a large “Home” screen clickable in the upper middle, make it a tad hidden…my son loves to hit the buttons and knows the home screen and constantly hits it but is upset when it leave the page he is on.

    I also WISH there was a nice listing of all the apps here or links to see these wonderful apps people are talking about here without manually writing them down on the app store.


    • 105

      Valerie Touze

      May 15, 2012 2:45 am

      You can check out websites such as that test apps and provide very insightful information.

  80. 106

    Thank you! I could not agree more. My toddler loves “his” iPad but he gets frustrated with trick upsells and administrative settings he can’t process. If you’re making a kids app, make it for kids! Let’s face it, the iPad is a TOY. I’d also like apple to introduce a toddler safe mode where nothing can be deleted. ARGH!!

  81. 107

    Very cool return on exp. thanx

  82. 108

    I create infant friendly apps designed and developed for my daughter Ellie. They’re called Ellie’s Games. During development, I had to make conscious decisions directly related to your four guidelines. I’m glad to see I made the right choices based on your article :D

    Thanks Rian!

  83. 109

    Worst. Pagination. Ever.

    Hah! I pulled up the apps to get the name of the company right and noticed that their latest update has changed the pagination!

    For app UI designers, don’t make the mistake that this company did. They were using the traditional swipe pagination but visually they were showing the cards flip up. So you had to swipe left/right but the animation went up/down. Now, that’s just wrong…

  84. 110

    Wow really?? great parents here.. having a kid under 7 stare at a screen, really?? come on!! no kid under 7 should use an iPad for what?? play outside, play with your toys, your friends, read. People who have a 2yr old use an ipad/iphone, shouldn’t have kids in the first place! shame on you

  85. 111

    Great Article! We’re building a new set of games for the 3 – 6 yr old demographic and the tips you shared are gonna be a great asset to ensure the UX of the gameplay is successful for us! One debate we’ve been throwing around is: if a kids game needs “how to play” directions is the game too complex?

    And even if the “how to play” is not needed, is it having it there none the less even necessary for a parent or child when using the app? Do you find that yourself or your child ever goes through a “how to play” instruction set?

  86. 112

    Even I know some more iPad book publishers, one of them is AURYN INC. They always deliver the best books for the kids.

  87. 113

    Honestly, is it even a good idea to have a two year old using an iPad? These are important year for her development, and removing tactile feedback from the things she interacts with seems like a distinctly *bad* idea to me.

    • 114

      Marty I’m not sure if you have children or not.

      I have 3 girls my oldest being 5 she enjoys a variety of things Dance, Drama, School, Swimming and absolutely loves the iPod touch.

      She has had access to and used the iPod since she was 2, I see the iPod as a learning aid as well as entertainment she has interactive books, math apps, memory games etc.

      She will get up on a morning and check the weather she can send & receive emails which is helping to improve her reading and writing.

      My 3 year old also enjoys using the iPod and realises the quicker she learns to read the easier the games will be it provides additional motivation to learn.

      If you go into any primary school the classrooms all have smart boards, digital cameras and computers in reception by year 4 they’re using netbooks. The preschool Nursary we use has all this too!!

      Children have no option but to use technology and as long as they don’t lock themselves in a room for 12 hours a day I think it’s the best start they can have.

  88. 115

    I think all App producers seem to be transfixed with IAP and if you have an idea for a kids app that doesn’t have that as part of its core make up they’re not interested in it’s development.

    I think this years Junior Apprentice has a lot to answer for, kids designing Apps designed to fleece kids (or their parents)

  89. 116

    I actually JUST finished an interactive childrens book for the iPad and submitted it…THEN read this article. I almost got it all right… :) No hidden sales pop-ups, no extra stuff or ads. I have nice clear arrows for forward and back navigation…BUT…the arrows are at the bottom of the page! So, I will keep this article on my desktop for future reference. And if you WANT to test out my book and give me pointers..please do ! “Where Is My Little Square Bear” published by Interactbooks. Thanks!

  90. 117

    Larry Keough

    March 19, 2012 2:44 pm

    Thank you so much for this informative information.
    I’m getting ready to put my books in app form. All this will help in building my apps for my books. Thanks again.

    Larry Keough

  91. 118

    Hi Rian,
    very interesting points. From my experience (Story2App-Engine and Match the Pairs) i would like to give an additional hitn to all developers of children apps. Create an early prototype and over the app to your childs and you will see what is wrong.
    For instance in our app we learned from the kids (4+) that they do not know anything about drag and drop. They are playing our game from bottom (it’s their site) to top (the others site). Today this is clear for us but had to learn this from the kids ;-) .

    My Advice ask those little beta testers as early as possible, they will make your app much better.

  92. 119

    It’s also worth mentioning that for those apps that use in-app purchases to scam you there is a setting that allows you to disable in-app purchases altogether, in General then Restrictions.

  93. 120

    Great post and comments.
    I’ve been working on it from a different angle.

    When my 10yo could not find a money management app for kids, we sat together, defined it and designed it to meet the need of her and her brother.
    Then, we created a prototype and collected feedback from our friends (the parents) and her friends (the kids).

    The result is – a website + mobile app to educate kids about money, have to save towards goals and how to manage their funds.

    Check it out – it is free.

    Send us feedback.

  94. 121

    Taniya Varshney

    March 22, 2012 8:00 am

    Great article! I have designed several kids apps in the past and have faced most of these challenges. I think all of these are valid and great suggestions which I already practice from experience. Some interesting notes that I would like share is that usability testing of apps with kids is critical. It has revealed very interesting facts like

    1. Children enjoy engaging rich interactive experiences when used smartly in context with the what the application is supposed to do

    2. It is extremely hard to keep a child’s attention on an app for too long (especially if it is learning oriented) so it works to break your application down into several small activities. Kids spend more time learning to do each activity and in the process learn the subject of the interaction well

    3. If an application has pagination it helps to have a voice over support the arrow buttons or swipe. Children understood and interacted smartly when supported with an audio instruction. It also makes them think they accomplished something on that current page and are “moving up” to the next page

    I should probably write an article about findings from usability tests with children because I can go on and on.

    Moral of the story: Test your application with those little gamers to find out only how smart they are with touch interfaces. You will be pleasantly surprised at the results!

  95. 122

    While I agree with most of what is written in the article, you shouldn’t also forget that children learn extremely quickly and should constantly be challenged. Touching wiggling cows to make them boo excited my daughter when she was 8 months old, but by that time she could mimic all the sounds in sequence as memorised from a youtube movie. Cat, god, turkey, horse, wolf,… after viewing it 15-20 times you just had to ask what sound a pig makes and she’d do it. She’s now 18 months and she takes the ipad, presses the ‘home’ button, swipes to unlock, presses the Youtube app (even if you’ve moved it around), clicks ‘favourites’ or ‘history’, scrolls around, will select the movie she wants (mostly already shouting “boat” or one of the lines in the song) and not wait for it to load but hit the play button to start it.

    So my advice towards app designers is to make them used to menus, sequential interactivity, dragging, reacting, and maybe even have an intelligent app that adapts to the speed of the child.

    Really, we think children / babies need sooo much time. Think again. All they need is a motivation to learn something. And depending on your own qualities and ideas of upbringing, that might not be candy, but just a simple “hey bravo well done” and a hug. As long as she can also put together the wooden puzzle, fit all the plastic shapes in the right holes, kick a ball around in the garden, enjoys blowing soap bubbles and likes riding with us on our bicycles.

  96. 123

    Mohammad Azam

    April 26, 2012 10:35 am

    This is an awesome post and it really helped me designing my iPad game for kids called “Kinder Pop”. The moral of this post is keep is simple as beauty is in simplicity.

  97. 124

    This is a good article all I would ask is that with apps for kids is:-

    A way to stop the home button exiting the app maybe a button combination or a warning that the game is exiting to the home screen.

    Educational apps which have English as an option actually use English, not US English
    i.e. centre compared to center and colour compared to color are just two that spring to mind.

  98. 125

    thanks for this article. it helps a lot. I design a apps for elementary kids recently, but totally stuck on it(interface,actually). this tips help me think again about how kids use ipad. Good article!

  99. 126

    I wholeheartedly agree about the in-app purchases. I actually have turned off in-app purchases altogether on my iPhone, even though both primary users are adults. I just don’t want the capability to be available so that I can accidentally buy something in the middle of the night when I’m not thinking clearly.

  100. 127

    I also completly agree with the article. The guidelines are clear for the IOS game developers whose models of game design based on tricking anyone not specifically children to make purchase unwillingly, But for most of the cases the children get no clue and put themself in the situation to pursue the mission or buy extra stuff which makes purchases within the apps. Which really unexpected for the children parents when the receive the bill on thier mobile phone. I think most of the parrents like me consider iPad tap app features helpful for children for his/her learning curve. Therefor couldn’t resist to stop their child using the iPad and shares their iPad with their childrens. but when given the iPad you don’t have control what to allow or what not to allow specifically few apps which are not appropriate for kids.

    To put the parantel control system to iPad to some extent. The iPad, ipad2 itself equipped with some restrictions option which stop make purchases. Go to iPad settings and restriction section just enable/disable them accordingly, but it will not address your complete scenerio but to some extent. To Handel other features such as enable password protected option for each apps or scheme of apps there is Lockdown Pro solution is available on the internet, But requires carefull handling so that you are not end up with forgetting the password or require to reset the iPad.

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    Harriet Pellereau

    July 19, 2012 6:24 am

    Love this article. I wondered if you would be interested in checking out my little kids storybook Timmy Tickle – I found this post very inspiring when I was making the app (more details here: If you are, I will happily send you a promo code.

  102. 129

    My Ipad is my kids Ipad now :) .. right indeed we need to carefully monitor kids apps.

    One which I can recommend is Pic-A-Who Who which is an educational Ipad game that helps your child rapidly learn faces, shapes, animals and other objects by sight and sound. You put your own pictures inside amazing themes, then narrate them with your own voice , so basically you decide the content of the app!

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    Great thread. I was about to launch an educational game for kids in the age group 2-5 years old and my revenue model was to release the fully functioning game for free and have the option to add more content via in app purchases. The game includes a setting to disable in-app purchases which is set to disabled as default as is the music. The button to get to this settings screen is small and not designed to look like a button but should be recognisable by adults. So the default state of the game has no links to any in app purchases at all and only if the parent enabled this would they links appear.

    I have chosen the in-app purchase route thinking it would provide a better way of marketing the game. I am a one man developer and have spent a lot of time developing this game. I have read of people who have released games that are paid for only and had less than 100 downloads in 6 months and I can vouch that one of these games was very professional. I created a game for a client recently that was free with in-app purchases and they had several thousand downloads of the free game within a matter of weeks.

    So if I was to consider an alternative revenue model at this stage taking into account I have pretty much zero marketing budget, what would you suggest?

    • 131

      After doing some reading on the subject, I see that another alternative is to release a “lite” version of the game and a full version. Problem with this model is my plan was to allow the parents to buy additional bundles via in app purchase. If you imagine a colouring app where you could buy a bundle of an additional X pictures via in app purchase, that is more or less the same idea. The lite/full version solution would not enable me to offer additional bundles in the same way.

      I want to make sure I get this right and don’t want to upset any parents so any advice at this stage is really appreciated.

  104. 132

    Agreed. Thank you for the article. I have a five year old son and I understand the value of building an app with philosophy explained in the article.

    Article and comments by so many folks here makes me and others in the team feel like we are part of this growing community who wants to provide the best and safe iPad experience to our kids. Year back when we started working on our first iPad only Halloween game for the kids, ( ) we were committed to provide best and safe experience for the kids. We designed and released app which is simple single screen game, has no ads or in-app purchase, no tracking of user activity or collection of usage data. I hope more developers take this route when they build iPad apps for kids.

  105. 133

    Mitchell Cogert

    September 27, 2012 1:12 pm

    There are a lot of things to watch out for when it comes to apps for kids. – the in-app purchases
    – banner ads from third parties
    – too frustrating an app for kids
    – stories that start friendly but become inappropriate for kids

    There are also lots of really great kids apps. To help parents figure out quickly which ones are best for their kids, I record videos of iPad apps along with a review.

    Here is one of the more ingenious iPad apps that brings out the artist in your kids:

    No, it’s not my app…just my video and review of it.


  106. 134

    I have always gotten so frustrated giving my toddler our iPhones or iPad. Thankfully, he never bought anything, but he was constantly clicking the home button and closing apps, opening apps that I didn’t want him to touch, or clicking on ads and stopping his game. It is hardly useful to keep him occupied when he can’t go more than a minute without needing assistance. I am also a therapist and work with kids with autism and aspergers. It is very hard to keep them focused, when they can just click out of an app. I heard there were some updates to iOS 6 under “Accessibility”, particulary the Guided Access Setting. I tried explaining this to some other parents I knew, as well as clients of parents. That was not so successful. Yesterday, I posted a tutorial on how to set up Guided Access in iOS 6 to keep kids from clicking out with the home button, hiking up the volume, and clicking on ads. Super useful at our house and with my clients. Feel free to check it out

  107. 135

    Thanks for the great article. As a developer and a father of a toddler, I completely agree. In kids games I detest ads, or any sort of trickery.

    I wonder if you (and others reading this) feel there is a place for in-app-purchases at all. I have a spelling app and would like to offer more words. The options are: in-app-purchases; or 2 different versions of the app (1 free, 1 paid).

    If we went with the in-app purchase method, it would be hidden behind a ‘double tap’ or ‘tap and hold’ non-descript menu item on the top of the home page (similar to the Play Tales game you mention), and their would be a setting to hide it completely.

    Maintaining trust with parents is very important to us. What do you, and others, think about the above in-app-purchase approach vs free/paid?

  108. 136

    “Smart Toddler School Pro++” apple app– This all in one or kindergarten prep app provides everything about upper, lower case letters, numbers, colors, shapes, counting and provides good listening and learning. The child will have the opportunity to learn to write, counting, colors, and advanced shapes. My son learned while playing with it for hours and hours.

  109. 137

    Thanks for all good advice! I have followed your guidelines for the development of Happy Draw Bug (my iPad game hobby project). Would be interesting to know what you think of it, there’s a game demo on the website:

  110. 138

    My 5 year old kid’d favorite app has lately been Jazzy World Tour. It teaches all about music and culture from around the world.

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  112. 140

    Thanks for the great article.
    As an app developer for preschooler I know it’s very hard to get it right, and my team and I continually tweak our apps to improve them.
    Even though we do not exactly follow your first rule, I think you’d like what we have done with our CosmoCamp series of apps.
    I’d be happy to see what you think of them:


  113. 141

    Hi Rian,

    I really liked you article and i wanted to ask you a question, I am developing a new drawing app for children aged 5-7.

    Our plan is to give 6 coloring pages for free and the rest are locked.

    I would like to know if you have any suggestions for us before executing the coloring pages’ inner pages interface? Do you have any examples of applications that do present a kids safety inner purchase flow?

    I appreciate your time and effort and will be very happy to read more about your thoughts regarding children’s applications.

    Best Regards,

  114. 142

    Jake Krajewski

    January 20, 2014 9:25 am

    Rian, please note that Donald Norman himself in his latest edition of The design of everyday things has stated that the design world is misusing the term affordance, which he himself made popular from his first edition. He has noted that the only affordance you can have with a glass surface is to touch it, I believe in his first or second chapter, and that a SIGNIFIER is what allows the user to understand what you mean as, “some sort of indicator, some signal in the physical or social world that can be interpreted meaningfully”. I don’t mean to nitpick, but it’s good for individuals in the forefront of design to be… at the forefront of design :)

  115. 143

    Great article! Also,Talking Angela asked questions like “do you have a dog?” “Does your dog sleep in your room with you?” and “Does your dog bark at strangers?”

    Then there’s the question and response that led to the deletion: “Do you like talking to strangers?” (NO) “Why not? I was a stranger and now we’re best friends!”

    When you put it all together, ALL of the talking cats were deleted…

  116. 144

    Carien van Zyl

    October 25, 2014 8:37 am

    Thanks for the article. Nice to see all the Afrikaans comments.
    I guess a lot of this boils down to user testing. Kiddies apps are a very interesting one. We are developing for kids, but selling to the parents How to maximise the sales while really making the app child friendly is difficult.

    Other thing I also found is that the kids sometimes hold the iPad in such a way that one of their fingers touches the screen. For a lot of apps, the other touches are then disregarded. Which results in the child asking the parent’s help.


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