Dad Warns Developers: Don’t Trick My Kids Into Buying


Talking Tom Cat is one app Rian picks out for criticism

User experience expert Rian van der Merwe posted a heartfelt rant at Smashing Magazine yesterday, begging developers of iPad apps for kids to think a little more carefully about how they put their apps together.

Most of his comments were about UI and interface issues, but the final one was a warning a lot of parents (myself included) will support: don’t try and trick my kids into buying additional content.

Rian proposed four essential guidelines that developers should be mindful of. The interface ones are mainly things that seem obvious when Rian talks about them, but they might not be obvious until you’ve actually sat a small child down in front of your app and watched them use it.

The reality of young kids and iPads is that they’re so absorbed in what’s on the screen that they don’t pay much attention to anything else. It’s very easy for controls at the bottom of the screen to be touched accidentally. And it’s very difficult for a child to work out what can be touched to make things happen, and what can’t. Rian says: “Give (interactive elements) a characteristic that indicates they are touchable.”

But it’s Rian’s final tip that appeals to me most:

If you try to trick my kid into buying stuff, you’re dead to me.

This is a view I can support. My son’s nine now, and much more savvy about how iOS works, and knows what an in-app purchase is. He knows that when something like that pops up, he should either hit Cancel or come and ask me. But Rian’s article addresses younger children, who cannot be expected to have an understanding of how the App Store works. Padding out an app aimed at that age group with hidden “BUY!” links is going to lead to nothing but disappointment for the kid, and annoyance for the parent.

It’s fine to have in-app purchases inside apps for kids, but keep them separate from the content. Have a main menu with a button saying “For parents” or something, and put the shopping in there.

  • joewaylo

    Sadly this has been going on since 3.0 when kids games got the In-App purchases and they’re still upset that their kids have to charge the parents hundreds of dollars to use the app’s specific features and they want these children applications to be free of charge.

    Developers aren’t going to do a thing about this. It’s how they earn profit even in the real world. They’ll charge the children $5 to pluck 100 fish pellets into the aquarium to feed the fish, in which they charge the parents who are responsible for installing the application. Otherwise they let their pet fish die because they don’t want their children running up to $500 to keep the fish happy.

  • pengwing

    Don’t you need a password for in app purchases?

  • iDaveG

    OMG, are these parents dumb?!

    I have all my devices set to require password for any purchase on iTunes, don’t blame the developers blame the users for allowing their devices to just buy content without signing in.

  • FriarNurgle

    As a parent I can understand this situation, but it’s a great learning tool for children. Just like when they are online, “Don’t click on the pretty shiny flashy things on the sides of the screen”. Sure some apps are worse than others with IN YOUR FACE in app purchases, but kids learn quickly. Just make sure you never type in your iTunes password infront of them.

  • iDaveG

    Reply to pengwing – stupid disqus but it as a comment and not reply

    Yes you do but most user set it up so you auto login, so anyone can purchase apps/songs/films etc from your account. Just think if you lost your device, they finder/tea-leaf could buy hundreds of iTunes content before you had chance to stop it.


    How about you just enable restrictions for in app purchases or not give your children the password? That simple. It’s not the developers fault for trying to make money, it’s the parents fault for making those in app purchases so easily accessable to children. 

    It’s like parents blaming VISA when their children figure out how to use mommy and daddy’s credit card. 

  • Rodney Caruana

    Does it matter? Imagine you’re playing your favorite video game i.e Skyrim or World of Warcraft, or doing whatever you like and a huge billboard pops up in front of you telling you BUY ME! I’m sure you would like it right? NOT, its not only wrong, its unethical.

  • awolfram

    You cant auto login for app purchases. It still requires a password.

  • Jonathan Ober

    Having a password for IAP doesn’t keep the pop up for more purchases from happening. I have disabled IAP for my kids apps and they still come to me asking what a pop up says or why they were kicked out to Safari or iTunes. The problem is the UX. For kids a simple UI and UX are necessary to avoid confusing them. Your comment is an obvious indicator that you do not have kids or have experienced a young child using an iPad.

  • djrobsd

    Family Feud on the iphone is notorious for it.  They added a slot machine and every day when you open the app you get to spin to win coins in the game.  They give you the first spin free, but unsuspecting people can accidentally spin again, costing you 99 cents.  It does say in small letters “Spin for .99” but the way they present it makes it easy for people to accidentally do this.