Ina Fried

Recent Posts by Ina Fried

Wondering How to Create a Great Tablet App for Kids? Ask Bert and Ernie.

Making a truly kid-friendly app is harder than it looks.

It means paying attention to everything from knowing how kids hold a tablet to accounting for their less finely honed motor skills and their short attention spans.

After spending the last several years creating dozens of apps for youngsters, the folks behind “Sesame Street” have collected a bunch of their best ideas into a guide for developers.

Elmo grover reading

Educators at Sesame Workshop noticed that kids tend to hold their tablet in landscape mode, for example, and rest their palms on the bottom. That means that if app makers put icons at the bottom of the screen, kids are far more likely to click on something accidentally.

Also, while kids love the interactivity that mobile device apps can bring, it is easy for the story to be lost if everything can be clicked on all the time.

“In the storybook, we know that kids can often get distracted by all the bells and whistles,” said Mindy Brooks, director of education and research for Sesame Workshop. A good way to manage that is to require that the youngster listen to the full text on a page before the added features are enabled.

The Sesame gang also has tips on the proper fonts to use, how to deal with sound and ways of offering gentle encouragement when a youngster chooses the wrong answer when asked a question. The findings are part of a paper that the nonprofit is making freely available in the hope that it will help other developers create better apps for kids.

“We want to make all preschool apps better for kids,” Brooks said in a telephone interview. In offering its suggestions, Sesame is drawing on its own experience creating apps as well as its more than 50 studies of how youngsters use mobile devices.

Sesame has been actively involved in tablet and other mobile apps, creating interactive versions of classic children’s books such as “There Is a Monster at the End of This Book.” In all, the Sesame folks have created about 45 different touchscreen apps and e-books for a variety of mobile devices.

One of the keys, Brooks said, is offering interactive books that work in different ways. The best option, Brooks said, is where there is a parent or other adult reading with the child. For those instances, Sesame recommends a “parent mode” with easy instructions to allow busy adults to quickly get up and running.

But, since kids are often left to their own devices (literally), Brooks said that Sesame’s apps are also designed with the main Muppet character acting as a virtual parent taking the young child through the activities.

Brooks said Sesame now has a better handle on what gestures are most natural for kids. Tapping is the most natural, for example. Tracing a line is also fairly easy, but kids often need to stop and start rather than doing it in one fell swoop. And, in a sign of just how separate today’s kids are from their PC-using parents, the double tap is one of the least intuitive gestures.


Latest Video

View all videos »

Search »

There was a worry before I started this that I was going to burn every bridge I had. But I realize now that there are some bridges that are worth burning.

— Valleywag editor Sam Biddle