Developing Mobile App For Kids: 12 Rules Of Thumb

By | September 5, 2014
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There is no dearth of mobile software companies claiming that they churn out the best Android or iPhone app for kids. Most of their offerings do not turn out to be up to the mark, however. We have here presented some basic guidelines that go a long way in ensuring that a children’s app is indeed a good one.

As per recent worldwide surveys, 4 out of every 10 children under the age of two (you read that right!) regularly use smartphones, tablets and other sophisticated mobile devices. That, in turn, explains the rapidly escalating popularity of kids’ apps – and the eagerness with which app development companies are trying to cater to the little ones’ demands. Making a perfect mobile application for children is not the simplest task though, and developers need to take a slightly different approach for such assignments. If you wish to develop successful mobile app for kids, these are the rules of thumb you need to remember:

 

  1. The app should load fast – The splash screen of a kids’ application should be visible for a maximum of 10 seconds, before the home/first page of the app appears on the screen. No matter how bright and colorful the splash screen is, you cannot expect a toddler to be patiently watching it for a longer time-span. Ideally, you should include some small animations on the splash screen. An impressive first look is an absolute must for any good kids’ app!
  2. The user-interface HAS to be engaging – Nothing interests a tech-savvy child trying out a new iPhone app for kids more than a riot of colors/characters on the mobile screen. The graphic designing themes you implement have to be lively and interesting – and the touch features have to be excellent. The UI should have a nice blend of lifelike displays, and some elements (e.g., the face of a friendly monster) that appear out-of-the-world.
  3. Do not include too many app-setting options – The more complicated your app is, the more difficult it would be for a small kid to manage. Make sure that the kids’ app you are working on do not have more than 2-3 different settings. Toggling between the settings/scenarios should be easy. There’s every chance that a toddler will incorrectly tap on the screen at any time – the entire app settings should not get altered by that.
  4. Make it interactive – There’s a world of difference between the types of apps kids and adults love. While a grown-up would find a personal mobile finance manager app or a news reading app interesting, they would seem uniformly boring to a child. Even in a mobile storytelling app for kids, you should focus on including as many interactive features (games, text-highlighting, character tapping, etc.) as possible. Watching a video or reading piles of text on a phone/tablet screen is something no kid enjoys – (s)he invariably wishes to ‘be a part’ of the app.
  5. Include an educational element – There are several purely gaming apps for children (what better example can there be than ‘Flappy Bird’?) – but in the long run, they do not deliver any value to the little user. If you are making an Android/iPhone app for preschoolers, include elements that would add to the overall knowledge pool of the little ones. For instance, in a digital story about interspace travels (and such stories are pretty common in apps), you can include planetary information. Maths puzzles, crossword challenges, and word-making games are also popular in free apps for kids.
  6. The sound of music – Ignore this factor at your (and your app’s!) peril. Remember, you are trying to keep your young audience engaged at all times – and audio effects play a vital part for that. Include a soothing, melodious background music (kids should have the option to turn it off, if they wish). There should be appropriate changes in the sounds, depending on the actions of the users. In a reading app for kids, there should be an option to listen to audio-narrations of the in-app stories. A child would prefer interacting with a virtual companion which ‘speaks’, and not a dumb app!
  7. Do not make kids mobile games too tough or too brief – This is a rather tricky aspect. A mobile game that is too easy won’t appeal to a curious, challenge-loving kid, while if the gameplay is too tough – (s)he might simply give up after a few minutes. Depending upon the age-group of children you wish to target, set customized difficulty level(s) in the games. What’s more – you need to ensure that the game does not ‘finish’. There should be plenty of levels, new modes to be unlocked, and fresh stories to read. Otherwise, your app won’t remain a kid’s favorite for long.
  8. In-app purchases and downloads – Okay, time to turn our attention to more commercial aspects. There are many mobile app companies that include direct paid download links on the screens of a kid’s app – and that is downright wrong. After all, a child of, say 3, is not supposed to understand which in-app purchases are necessary – and they might simply end up spending some of their parents’ money. Don’t go for such shady marketing tactics, and have a link to your business website on the settings page of the app instead. Parents would be able to check out your overall app portfolio, and download according to their (and their kids’) preferences.
  9. Have a reward system – Which kid doesn’t love to win prizes? Any good mobile application for children should have an in-built virtual reward system, so that the li’l darlings can get that sense of fulfillment after their app-activities. If it’s a gaming app, you can go for a points accumulation system, reward coins, or other such interesting rewards. For mobile learning apps for kids, there should be token prizes for children who manage to complete letter-writing tasks, maths exercises, and the like. Audio effects – like the sound of applause, or a voice saying ‘Well Done!’ – can add to a kids’ app’s charm too.
  10. The in-app navigation should be easy – Many iPhone and Android app developers make the folly of including too many pages/screens in a children’s app. This invariably makes the menu of the app cluttered – and kids ultimately lose their way in the maze. A toddler might be surprisingly tech-savvy, but even then (s)he would appreciate it if the navigation system in a mobile app is smooth and easy to understand. Let’s look at it this way – a kid should not have to run to his/her mom/dad to understand how an app should be operated. Presence of too many screens will make an app heavy too – and that’s another thing you don’t want.
  11. Title and app-icon – The name and icon of an app would be its first points of contact with those it is meant for – children. Choose a catchy, innovative, fun title, which would give the users (parents and children) some idea about what the app is all about. Your UI/UX designing team should create around 4-5 different app icons and logos. During the development stage, use the social media channels of your business (read: Facebook) to showcase the alternative icons, and find out which one is best-received. Use it in the final version of your app.

A small tip here: Do not ever plagiarize the title and/or icon of any existing, popular kid’s app. That way, you will simply be asking for rejection at the online stores!

12. Don’t forget the parents – An app for kids should not only be about delighting the young boys and girls who download it. Any responsible parent would like to keep track of what his/her children is doing with smartphones and tablets – and you can facilitate this by including suitable parental control features in the app. For web-enabled apps, there should be a log of sites browsed – which parents can check on a regular basis. Finally, there should be the option to ‘lock the app’ at certain times. Otherwise, kids might stay up till late to play games on your app – and parents will not approve it!

Regular upgrades are important for any app, and for a mobile application for children, they are absolutely critical. Make sure that your app has been properly tested prior to release – for a buggy app would surely lead to adverse word-of-mouth publicity. Focus on delivering surprises to the little ones via the app, make it very user-friendly, play around with colors and animation characters, and actively seek feedback and opinions from parents. There are zillions of free apps for kids out there – if yours has to stand out, you need to follow the above guidelines.

 

Hussain Fakhruddin
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Hussain Fakhruddin

Hussain Fakhruddin is the founder/CEO of Teknowledge mobile apps company. He heads a large team of app developers, and has overseen the creation of nearly 600 applications. Apart from app development, his interests include reading, traveling and online blogging.
Hussain Fakhruddin
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