Kids Mobile Newsletter 12.8

Considering that 78% of American teens own a smartphone and over-index on key use cases including texting, this article has some smart insights on the effects of digital technology to relationships during the teenage years.

Parents might be acculturated to criticizing and minimizing the use of video games, but as these consoles and games become more sophisticated, and time spent together through technology rather than apart is waning, it only makes sense that parents should spend time playing video games with their kids. The narratives and, in many cases, positive lessons instilled during gaming can really help bring a family together.

Speaking of video games, how did video games become stereotypically for boys only?

A recent study led by Project Tomorrow shows that tablets have a positive impact on both learning and teaching key concepts in schools, provided students are given rules on “proper” usage. There’s been just as many studies to contradict this, and this study looks at students with a stronger familiarity with technology, but tablets can provide a truly unique way of digesting content, unless you buy HP tablets and have to deal with all of this drama.

Hopster, an iPad app that aims to be your tablet’s channel for video content for kids, just launched in the app store. Although I understand that TV isn’t the most kid-friendly platform by nature, I’m interested to see how encouraged parents are to download this. I think, in general, iPads provide a more active form of screen time, and we should leave passivity to the TV.

Fisher Price’s chair for infants and toddlers with a built in iPad holder is getting a slew of negative reviews, for obvious reasons.

Little Galaxy App Gets Kid-Friendly

I’ve been a huge fan of Little Galaxy for the past 6 months or so, a delightful, visually-stunning app with a child-like feel (and I’m assuming a strong child base) but strategically challenging for adults. Their latest update includes a prompt to enter user’s age at the start. Although it doesn’t block the child from playing, I’m thinking it’s added value in case they aim to monetize the platform, so they’re getting smart in advance.


This topic has been making the rounds for the past month, but I particularly like this write-up. Social robots are highly effective for engaging with autistic youth because they are simpler than humans to interact with, their actions are perfectly repeatable and they can be modified in various ways to meet the requirements of different children. But what’s the most interesting is their ability to not just connect - but detect - signs of autism in high risk babies.

The classic, heartwarming John Lewis commercial for this year has its own accompanying storytelling app, available for iOS and Android in the UK. Considering the work that went into bringing this tale to life, it’s only natural to extend it into an app to help keep the spirit alive.

A study from April suggests a potential link between the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and cell phone use, but only statistically significant in children who were also exposed to high levels of lead. However, I’m still seeing this used frequently in cases for limiting smartphone usage in youth. It’s interesting to note, but I think the opportunity for smartphones/tablets to help children with ADHD far outweigh perceived health implications.

Elementary schools in Finland are looking to add basic coding and programming classes into their daily curriculum.

Toca Boca has launched socks for kids with their monsters printed on them, moving into the physical goods space just in time for the holidays. A cheap stocking stuffer, I can’t see how these won’t be a hit. When will they be available for adults?

Kids Mobile Newsletter 11.12

Stats of the week

  • TV remains the predominant medium (>4 hours per day) but nearly one-third of TV programming is viewed on alternative platforms (computers, iPads, or cell phones). 
  • 84% of children and teenagers have Internet access, often high-speed, and 1/3 have access in their bedroom.
  • 75% of 12-17 year olds now own cell phones, up from 45% in 2004. 
  • 88% of teenagers use text messaging. 
  • Teenagers actually talk less on their phones than any other age group except for senior citizens but in the first 3 months of 2011, teenagers 13 through 17 years of age sent an average of 3364 texts per month.
  • Half of teenagers send 50 or more text messages per day, and 1/3 send more than 100 a day.


The American Academy of Pediatrics released new recommendations for media usage, which included encouraging parents to play a more active role in helping their children decide what media to consume. They recommend less than one to two hours of content a day, and discourage access to new media for children under the age of 2. This time around, the recommendation is less severe, and led with finding out more context around this usage, understanding that kids are overwhelmingly consuming content on new media devices. The two key factors they believe can signal more harmful usage of new media include “how much recreational screen time does your child or teenager consume daily?” and “is there a television set or Internet-connected device in the child’s bedroom?” 

What does mobile-only internet access mean for a parent? Well, something like this. Oh, and this. These should be standard mobile web best practices by now, but we’re still seeing these issues time and time again.

Really excited for your latest mobile innovation for education? Not so fast: only 39% of public schools in the US have wireless access for all the students. Nearly all schools have limited wireless or broadband access, but restrictions prevent students, and in many cases teachers, from utilizing spontaneously. This can really hinder use of tablets in the classroom, as well as personal smartphones and tablets from providing use during the school day.

As in-app purchases fall under heightened scrutiny by lawmakers and consumers alike, the Children’s Media Foundation research group did some studies in the UK to further understand the extent that these purchases affect device usage and media consumption. They found that only 2% of British kids are making purchases without their parent’s permission. They also found that a surprisingly low number (17%) of children aged six to 12 are allowed by their parents to make in-app purchases at all, and when they do, they rarely exceed $3.20.

Little Hands

I have monstrous hands. Massive. They’ve been deemed freakish and manly, and often I get asked if I play basketball. I come from a very tall family but somehow skipped the height gene and just got hands and feet, and played piano all my life so perhaps that spurred it, but with hands larger than the average man’s - it’s what I’ve got.

So phones for me have always, always been small - especially when cell phones first came out and texting required incredible precision and multiple taps a letter. I couldn’t type one-handed, and hated doing so. Now, with smartphones, I can easily cradle and device and find no issues with usability - which is why this article from a woman calling out the tech industry’s continued oversight of the female population based on her inability to comfortably use a device with one hand so powerful. For it’s entirely true; hand size, something that barely changes from puberty ‘til death, has become nearly entirely overlooked in smartphone manufacturing.

[Source, IHS]

Since 2008, the average size of smartphone screens has more than doubled, triggered by both competitive and materials-based opportunities. Furthermore as the lines between tablets and smartphones blur, it becomes even harder to align an expected one-handed v. two-handed usage to a device. But it doesn’t seem to be directly tied to consumer abilities. Consequently, we’ve seen more work done to help highlight high, mid and low areas of accessibility on a screen, and designing mobile experiences accordingly.

[Source, Luke W]

But is this enough? Will developers’ adaptation of experiences be enough to suit users? As the writer in the aforementioned Medium post noted, she can’t even access key device experiences like the Camera fully. And she’s not the only one. She mentions women, who are already strong adopters of smartphones and currently experiencing these issues. She also mentions those of developing nations that have smaller bodies on average and would have more difficulty using devices as large as the ones that are popular here.

Another demographic she didn’t mention, though, are kids. And although smartphone ownership for them is low, smartphone usage for them is extremely high - 75% of all children have access to a smart device at home. Two main entry points are the “pass-back”, when parents give kids their own device to play with, named for the literal passing back of the parent’s smartphone to the child in the backseat while driving, and the “hand-me-down”, or the gifting of outdated devices, now without a data plan, for the kids to use and abuse at their will.

Smartphone and tablet ownership for this demographic is sure to increase, though - particularly if brands continue to develop devices targeted towards them, as Samsung recently has. And the shift from more of an entertainment, lean-back experience to a utilitarian-based form and function is going to happen as kids mature and become more comfortable and dependent upon devices to provide a consistent level of interactivity. And although their hands are growing as quickly as their minds, we might find them gravitating towards smaller screens, especially if the average size continues to trend upwards.

I’m lucky to have large hands, because by being short I know how frustrating other experiences are that are made for the tall. But the concept of smartphone and tablet design for hand size affects much more than those with little hands, but those with low device ownership and/or a negative perception of what these devices can do for them. And until they’re designed for everyone, they can’t be expected to be adopted by all.

Anthropomorphic Character Design

I find it fascinating how animals translate into interactive, relatable characters in children’s media. And although this isn’t an exhaustive list, it definitely helps explain the rise of monsters in children’s media, particularly their use in apps that aim to be “interactive”, for as the creatures become more abstract, the more human-like they can be. Many developers try to emulate human-like engagement on platforms they perceive to be more foreign - it’s kind of like the skeumorphism of character development in a digital age.

I’ve added the specific text noted in the graph below:


Because most children are familiar with these, the characters that emulate dogs tend to be relatively more realistic. Many bark as well as talk, and stay on all fours. Other animals that fit in this range include cats and big cats, fish, common birds, and horses. 


Characters kids are less familiar with, like elephants, tend to have a broader range of representation. They are on either two legs or four, and overall more human with eyebrows, more expressive eyes, and even at times wear clothes. Other animals that fit this range include giraffes, bears, sloths and other small furry animals, and exotic birds. 


Aliens have become a cultural phenomenon that traditionally have been built on the pub- lic’s fears of them. Many ties to traditional al- ien development is tied to social and political trends. For kids, however, aliens tend to have very strong anthropomorphic ties altered in a noticeable way, like three eyes or different colored skin. Aliens targeted towards kids tend to still have a relatively human form and a humorous personality.

This only applies to “good aliens”. Aliens as foe are usually reptilian or bug-like, and have less anthropomorphic tendencies. 


Monsters are an extremely popular approach to create a character with very little negative connotation. Con- sequently, they adopt a wide range of anthropomorphic characteristics. Now, most monsters are good, and tend to reflect more unique and relatable per- sonalities, helping kids see past dif- ferences and understand the character itself.

Like aliens, oftentimes monsters have blatant differences that differentiate them from humans despite the similar- ities in act and appearance otherwise, like one eye, bright fur, or strangely shaped bodies. 



A new study from Common Sense Media provided the most comprehensive look at children’s media consumption we’ve seen all year, many of which tell a strong story about their relationship with mobile devices. Some highlights: there’s a big shift in daily screen time from TV, computers, etc. to smartphones and tablets, which has increased by 10minutes, 38% of children under the age of 2 have engaged with media on a smartphone or tablet, and the percent of children who use mobile devices on a daily basis – at least once a day or more – has more than doubled, from 8% to 17%.


Google’s Quantum A.I. Lab has released qCraft, a mod that brings the principles of quantum physics to the world of Minecraft. Understanding the broad reach and popularity of the addictive cross-platform game to kids, Google hopes to inspire them to think about the real-life applications of programmatic building. Increasingly, educational organizations have been experimenting on how to make gaming more meaningful, and this is a rather large-scale example.


The CEO of Moshi Monsters spoke with The Guardian about the challenges of shifting from the web to mobile, and the opportunities in-app purchases provide, despite controversy and legal issues that have sprung up lately on the subject. With 70M users and $250M of merchandise since their launch in 2008, transitioning into a quickly-growing mobile world to meet their users where they are is no small feat.


Toca Boca has just released its 11th app and, with 47M users, it has a firm stance on the use of paid app downloads v. in-app purchases, the latter of which they don’t use: “Trust takes a very long time to build up, but you can ruin it very quickly. If you start messing with it, you might sell a lot of IAP in the short term, but in the long term you may sell less overall.”


The Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids, designed specifically for the emerging young consumer market, will be available in the US on November 10th. At retail price for $229.99, it’ll be a tough sell when compared to new low-cost tablets, specifically Amazon’s latest Kindle Fires, but sales will be a good indicator of the extent of the shift from sharing devices with kids and device ownership for kids.


The kids mobile world was in an uproar last week when an ad for e-cigarettes was found in an app targeted to kids. The app, which is listed as 4+ but not featured in the Apple Kids section of the app store, includes ads as part of the free experience. Although many were quick to blame the cigarette company and Apple for “allowing this to happen”, the true responsibility lies with the developers of the app to ensure they’re filtering the ads that can appear in the experience.