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.