Ratings screens in children’s apps need to die — and they’re not the only thing

Mini-G has been faffing about with an iPod touch and — whenever possible — her parents’ iPhones for some months now. If ever you need a reminder about your generation’s looming obsolescence, stick a toddler in front of a high-tech device and see them master it before they’ve even figured out how to talk. Anyway, since we’re at the point where mini-G can use apps alone (albeit supervised), I’ve made some observations.

First, I’m broadly positive about the whole screens thing. I don’t believe a kid should be glued to any kind of screen for long periods of the day, but mini-G learned how to attempt to say ‘mouth’ from Metamorphabet, and has apps that have boosted aspects of empathy and dexterity. After a session has gone on for perhaps 20 minutes, an iPhone is — typically without prompting — turned to sleep mode and returned to the relevant parent. (Elsewhere, books are read, Lego is played with, puzzles are completed, telly is watched, and wheeled walkers are driven around the kitchen as if it’s the Indy 500. So: balance.)

Secondly, however, it’s clear some developers of apps for children either haven’t tested them all that much on actual children using them on their own, or fundamentally don’t care about the user experience as it relates to said children. Here are some things developers should avoid when making apps for kids:

Ratings screens.
These aren’t exactly loved in apps for adults, but it’s reasonable to include them — reviews and ratings can be important for an app’s success. But throwing up a screen along these lines on an app being used by a 20-month-old child? At best, a parent will be there and grumpily turn off the app. If not, the child will get frustrated and bounce out to the App Store. (And developers who reason very young kids do not remember their favourite apps — as in, apps that don’t annoy them — let me tell you: you are wrong.)

Long launch animations.
 Yes, we know you’re probably very proud of that lengthy animation you had commissioned, your company logo bouncing around like a cartoon character hopped up on sugar. But here’s the thing: no kid cares a jot. In fact, mini-G exits apps with remarkable speed if they don’t ‘do’ anything interactive. You’ve probably got two or three seconds. By all means include your intro, but make it immediately skippable with a single tap. Otherwise, you’re just this tech generation’s DVD producer.

Visible IAP.
 I’m not against IAP in general, not even in apps for children. Developers just need to ensure apps aren’t exploitative. However, in apps designed for children, the IAP needs to be hidden behind some kind of settings screen. I’ve seen too many apps now where you get the first bit for free, and then a kid taps on something that flings up an IAP window. Sure, they’re not going to purchase anything at that moment (well, unless they’re very tech savvy and you are asleep); but the child will get frustrated at not being able to easily exit that screen and get back to the fun parts, or when they inevitably end up back on that screen on a fairly regular basis.

Fiddly navigation.
 It takes time for the dexterity of young children to improve, and yet children’s apps are full of fiddly navigation elements. So make interfaces chunky. Ensure that if a kid accidentally exits to the main screen, they can continue by tapping a suitably massive button (it turns out a big Play symbol is a good one to use). If you don’t, you may find kids simply exit the app and don’t go back.

April 7, 2016. Read more in: Apps, Design, Opinions, Technology

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“This service is ending”. The curse of the Smart TV

I have a Smart TV. It’s not overly smart. It’s a Samsung, and looks quite nice, but the interface was seemingly designed by a sadist. The TV runs on-demand ‘apps’, which take ages to load; Freeview audio is always out of sync, despite Samsung going ARGLE WARGLE WILL FIX SOON HONEST BARGLE at regular intervals; the panes within the interface lurch and spin as you switch between them; and the menus seem to have mistaken accessing options for an exciting game of hide the settings.

But what’s most struck me of late is how temporary the ‘smart’ bit seems to be. This telly is about a year old, but now barely a week goes by without a little message appearing at the top of the screen about a service ending. Mostly, these are for apps I don’t really care about, but Samsung itself pulled off a doozy last summer, removing 40 per cent of the front end, so it, apparently, could make improvements and add new features in the future. Naturally, there have been no improvements and no new features since.

What gets me is that tellies are all-in-one units, which are designed to last many years, but it’s clear the software on them isn’t. And this has made me reconsider what I’d go for in future — a much dumber TV to which you can attach an Apple TV or equivalent box. At least those appear to have a bit more of a future, cost little to replace if you want to upgrade or switch units, and tend to add more capabilities over time rather than take them away.

March 24, 2016. Read more in: Opinions, Technology, Television

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I made a video about iOS 9’s broken Game Center and you’ll never guess what happened next

I wrote that Game Center is broken, and that Apple told me it will “hopefully” be “resolved” “soon”, but the issues are tough to visualise for anyone who’s not experiencing them. At least, people on Twitter tell me so, and Twitter NEVER LIES.

So I dusted off my long-dormant and barely used YouTube account and made an amazing video, featuring:

  • My finger
  • An iPad Air 2
  • Game Center white-screening
  • Settings freezing on trying to access the Game Center section
  • (The excellent) Dashy Crashy not being able to connect, and not showing friends in the racing
  • Game Center white-screening a second time, in case you didn’t see it before

As for what I did next, you probably did guess: I wrote this blog post. So sorry about that misleading heading, but you know how it is online these days — people with SEO hats punch your face in unless you use TECHNIQUES to get people to visit your site. Just think yourself lucky they didn’t make me split this short post up into eleven separate pages. As a gallery.

March 23, 2016. Read more in: Apple, iOS gaming, Technology


16 GB iPhones, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro camera, and the wrong compromises

For all its bluster about making perfect and ‘magical’ products, Apple has a streak of realism about it. Company execs often talk about compromise. The point is that you have to compromise on components, in order to meet certain specifications and criteria, be they to do with pricing or usability. The question is whether the right compromises are being made.

Generally, Apple seems to get things right, but there are two areas where I find Apple’s decisions regarding compromise troubling.

The first is storage. The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, which shoot high-res photos and 4K video, and that are powerful enough to run high-end multi-GB games, start out at 16 GB. For ‘only’ an extra 80 quid or $100, you can get four times as much storage, in what seems like a blatant upsell. The iPad Air 2 also starts at 16 GB, and Apple has removed the 128 GB option, presumably to push people towards the new 128 GB 9.7-inch iPad Pro (which mercifully doesn’t have a 16 GB option, but omits a 64 GB one, leaving a void between 32 and 128).

The second area I have an issue with is the camera on the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro. In terms of specifications, it seems to match the camera in the iPhone 6s, but that also means — just like on the iPhone — it is not flush with the case. When used flat on a table, this means the new iPad will wobble — not great if you’re drawing with Apple Pencil or even playing games. And how strong is that lip around the camera? What potential is there for damage? Will users essentially be forced into buying a case, thereby adding heft to the iPad and making its ‘thinness’ largely irrelevant?

However, as a writer interested in investigation and thought rather than screaming linkbait into the void, I have to concede that I simply don’t know what the right compromises are, except for me. Personally, I’d sooner see more storage at the low-end of every Apple line, and I’d prefer the new iPad to have a worse camera that’s flush with the unit. On Twitter, some people have told me they’re flabbergasted by Apple’s decision regarding the new iPad Pro’s camera, but then Perch lead developer Drew McLellan said “When I’ve personally seen an iPad used for work, it’s mainly been for that camera. And always with a case.”

Without the numbers, it’s impossible to know why Apple’s making the decisions that it is; and even with the numbers, you still wouldn’t be sure. Sometimes, these decisions are made on instinct or on the basis of trying to push devices into new areas of use. Even so, the notion of a wobbly iPad is enough for me to stop short of an immediate purchase, instead waiting until I can check one out in an Apple Store. Presumably, Apple thinks or knows my reluctance will be balanced by one or more people deciding Apple has made the right compromise — or them not caring about such compromises at all.

March 22, 2016. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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Apple wobbles

Apple just revealed a new iPad Pro. It looks fantastic. The device has all of the smarts of its bigger brother, but in the more svelte form factor of the iPad Air 2. You get Pencil support, the Smart Connector, built-in stereo speakers, the powerful A9X chip, and a 12-megapixel iSight camera that’s capable of shooting 4K video. In fact, that’s better than the one inside the 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

Or is it? Technically, the smaller iPad Pro’s camera blows the one in the 12.9-inch device away, but then you finally catch a glimpse of the new iPad from the back (which requires you to scroll a long way down the page linked to above) and notice that the camera protrudes from the rear of the device, just like on the iPhone 6s.

I really don’t like the protruding camera from an aesthetic standpoint, but it really hasn’t made that much difference when I use my iPhone. My iPad Air 2, on the other hand, is often used flat on a desk, most often when playing games, but sometimes also when using apps. I have an Apple keyboard for a Mac that has a slight wobble and it drives me nuts. I can’t really imagine splashing out over £600 on a new iPad with what for me will be such a fundamental usability flaw. And yet everything else about this device screams that it is perfect for what I want.

In short: ARGH.

March 21, 2016. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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