App controls: evaluating apps for kids
Are the controls easy to identify, and where are they located? Are they placed in such a way that a child will be accidentally touching them all the time? Pagination controls for ebooks at the bottom of the screen will frequently be activated by accident. It may not be a disaster, but it takes the child out of the flow of the narrative and makes the reading experience less engaging.
Is it too easy to exit to the menu or other customization features? If these options are available on more than just the home screen, they should be as unobtrusive as possible. Requiring at least two touches to activate a menu is ideal as a guard against accidental exit from the narrative or the app experience. The First Words and First Letters apps handle this very nicely. The icon that takes you to the options page to change settings is very small and unobtrusive, in the upper corner. Touch it once and it moves to the center of the top of the screen. Touch it again and you exit to the menu. It’s difficult to activate without intention.
The best way to evaluate these issues is to field test with a child. Trust me, if there’s a button, they will push it. I didn’t realize how much of a problem controls on the bottom of the screen could be until I noticed that my son frequently holds the iPad on his lap right against his stomach and his tummy rolls will sometimes activate the controls! I doubt most app designers are thinking about that when they are working on their designs, but it’s the kind of real-world occurrence that you will see over and over when working with kids and technology.
Controls that are needed to successfully navigate the app should be clear, and ideally located at the top of the screen. They should be simple to use, and especially for young children there should not be too many options on the screen at once. A screen cluttered with controls is distracting and diminishes the effectiveness of the app or ebook.