OK, to get the dour stuff out of the way, should we be feeding apps to young brains at all? According to Julie Halpert:
Though Apple is actively marketing the iPad as a valuable learning tool for children and teens, many experts are wary about the effects on young, developing minds. They point to studies that show a strong relationship between increased media use and cases of attention deficit hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and worry that children’s real-life social skills will be permanently damaged. But in an increasingly technology-focused society and economy – jobs in science and technology fields are expected to grow twice as fast as jobs in other sectors over the next 10 years – others argue that exposure to technology, no matter how early, will only help children develop into the tech-savvy adults the country needs.
Jane M. Healy, an educational psychologist who specializes in the effect of computer technology on growing brains and author of Different Learners: Identifying, Preventing and Treating Your Child’s Learning Problems, feels technology offers no benefits to young children. “All indications are that instead of increasing their intelligence, it’s going to dull it down,” she says. What’s most important for a young child’s brain development is interacting in conversation, a skill that children preoccupied with an iPad, cell phone or computer fail to practice, she says. “It’s language that will later help them become physicists, scientists and imaginative computer programmers.”
I personally think it’s a bit like my own experience of not being able to watch commercial TV when I was a kid: I was left out of every water-cooler conversation because I never got to watch Scooby Doo. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure I would have hated Scooby Doo, but that’s beside the point. If you don’t give kids the experience their peers are having, at least to some extent, they’re not going to thank you. I’m not suggesting you let them watch TV four hours a day because their peers are, but you do give them the means and right to watch Scooby Doo (etc) at least sometimes.
And I don’t think we need experts to tell us that you can overdo anything? So let’s just accept that apps for children are a part of the world we live in. So, what do we want from them? Stuart Dredge writes in The Guardian:
…the more I thought about all this technology, and how my own three and five year-old sons use apps, the more I realised that the best children’s apps are successful because of a pair of more traditional qualities.
Great storytelling. Strong characters.
It seems apps aren’t so revolutionary after all, but that’s a good thing. Treat any claims that apps are set to kill off books with the derision they deserve. Apps are just another form of storytelling, and one that sit alongside printed books rather than trying to replace them.
However, the siren call of interactivity has tended to get in the way:
The first wave of children’s book-apps for the most part fell into two camps: those with too little interaction – basically digitised print pages with a voiceover – and those with too much interaction for the sake of it.
He comes to three conclusions:
- “It’s hardly surprising that famous children’s brands are popular on the app stores, while new characters and stories struggle for attention.”
- “if these companies are some of the great storytellers on smartphones and tablets, should they be hooking up with larger publishers to find an audience, just as talented authors and illustrators do in the traditional books world?”
- “that some of these partnerships will popularise the idea that great storytelling can come from children, not just authors. Children actively participating in a story, or telling their own completely new tales using characters and tools provided to them.”
Together, these conclusions add up to a few headaches for the independents. Dredge continues:
Somewhere in this, there is a sweet spot for the next generation of marvellous children’s apps, which will continue to complement printed-book reading and real-world play, rather than replace them. With new stories and characters, not just the old favourites.
Although admittedly, the creators of these apps will still have to solve the challenges of marketing them…
Ouch. Build you audience elsewhere (eg on Youtube), then perhaps win them over to buying your app?
The Dad inA Dad’s Plea To Developers Of iPad Apps For Children is Rian van der Merwe. He proposes 4 essential guidelines which work with his two year old:
1. Affordance Is King
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: affordance. Give the elements in question a characteristic that indicates they are touchable.
2. Pagination Is A Primary Action
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.
3. The Menu Is A Distant Secondary Action
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.
4. If You Try To Trick My Kid Into Buying Stuff, You’re Dead To Me
Oh yes. Someday all that advertising and marketing is going to get its come-uppance. I don’t know how, I don’t know when, but there will be a Dirty Harry scene.
On a more general note, Ken Yarmosh in 5 Ways to Create Stunning iPad Applications proposes:
- Say non to task bars (a la smartphones);
- Mai oui to ‘gesture consistency’:
Gesture consistency is a general mobile problem that’s more evident on the iPad, where additional gestures are available such as multi-finger taps, pinches, and swipes.
When working with gestures on the iPad:
- Remember that one hand will usually remain on the device.
- Introduce non-standard gestures through onboarding and first-time walkthroughs.
- Consider reinforcing non-standard gestures through visuals or animations either the first several times they are used, or every time.
- Be aware of iOS-level gestures, including the four-finger swipe up, five-finger swipe left or right, and five-finger pinch, so the app’s gestures do not compete or conflict with iOS.
- Realistic representation of real-world object, such as notepads, is passe.
- Also out are split views, eg the traditional website navigational pane, next to the content pane.
Finally, and impossibly braodly, ““think different,” while still embracing human interface guidelines and community-established standards.” (!)
[‘student_ipad_school – 077′ by flinkingerbrad: http://www.flickr.com/photos/56155476@N08/6660029185/