• Toddler Mode for iPad

    It turns out a few of us at Adaptive Path have both iPads and toddlers. And while toddlers love iPad, and I love that my son loves iPad (it can buy my wife and I up to many minutes to do something else with him around), much could be done to make iPad a toddler-friendly device.

    You know how iPhone and iPad have “airplane mode”, which turns off all connectivity? Right under that, I want “Toddler Mode”. When switched on, you’ll get a dialog letting you know you are entering Toddler Mode, and an explanation of how to get out. Unlike Airplane Mode, you can’t get out of Toddler Mode through settings, because there’s no way Toddler Mode should allow access to the settings panel. I haven’t figured out the best way out of Toddler Mode, but I’m thinking a quick triple-click on the home button, followed by a swipe, should work.

    Which gets us to the home button. Toddlers love the home button. Being the only physical button on the device, and thus the only the that provides tactile satisfaction, toddlers press the button all the time. Particularly while using an app they really like. And they don’t realize that pressing this gets them out of the app. And after they press it, they then look at you, as if to suggest something is broken, and you need to help them. So, the first thing for Toddler Mode is that it disables the home button. You might ask, “How do they go to other apps, then?” Well, they don’t. That’s for parents to do. I’m thinking a quick double-click takes you to the home screen. Some toddlers might figure that out, and that’s fine, because…

    …the home screen has only the Toddler Apps on it. Toddler Apps would be determined by the parent, either in iTunes, or creating a folder in iOS4. You place only those apps you want your Toddler to have access to (in our case, Talking Carl, Angry Birds, and Koi Pond), and this prevents him from launching things that might have less-than-happy results (say, buying $1000 apps in the App Store).

    The other thing Jules (my son) loves on iPad are movies. We’ve got a few Pixar flicks and shorts on there for him. The thing is, they’re in the mix with the things that the parents are interested in, and the sucky Videos app means there’s a bit of hunting to find what you want for him. So, Toddler Mode would show just those movies that we’ve tagged as for Toddlers.

    This post is a little silly, but for me, it highlights something important about iPad that it seems Apple doesn’t really get. iPad, at least this first version, is built on the model of iPhone. And iPhones are personal devices — it’s reasonable to expect only one person uses an iPhone, and that the design should optimize for that. iPads, at least in my household, and those of folks I talk to, are family devices. They go from person to person in a house. This isn’t typical for most computing devices (except new-fangled set-top boxes for your TV). iPad’s form factor drastically changes the sociality of the device, and I suspect this will prove a rich avenue of exploration.

    (Thanks to Dan Harrelson, Leah Buley, and Stacy (my wife) for ideas that contributed to this!)

    There are 27 thoughts on this idea

    1. peterme

      Turns out there’s something similar-ish for Android: ToddlerLock.

    2. Glen b

      How about a tablet made for toddlers? Costs $199. Juice proof. Smaller screen.

    3. Jason

      Ha ha excellent. I was part of a tv interaction design project where we definitely had a kind of toddlers mode! But really you gotta scale it up to at least teens, cuz everyone parents differently :)

    4. James Stone

      Not a silly post at all… Some of the drawing apps could do with toddler mode too… As children (particularly my 6 month daughter) use a hand rather than finger which sets off all sorts of zooming / pinching etc…

      But further than this I think user profiles are needed for the iPad, my wife took my iPad to my neighbors to show them it and i had to disable my email temporarily… It was probablyfinr, but somethings you’d rather were both kept private, but also removed for simplicities sake.

    5. Simon H

      I absolutely agree. It would also be great to somehow disable the on screen controls for YouTube and videos so they don’t accidentally stop it playing.

    6. Craig Villamor

      Great idea. I want something similar for when I hand my iPad to someone who is just curious to play around with it. As James points out, I don’t want other people accessing my notes, email or calendar.

    7. Stephanie Hobson

      I don’t think this is a difference for the iPad, I’d love for my iPhone and I know several parents that want it for their iTouches. Kids want to play with the shiny no matter the size :)

    8. Vlad

      Aren’t all Apple products in this mode by default?

    9. Steve

      Why not just have a switch that activates a password? You flip into Toddler Mode, are prompted to enter a password to activate/deactivate, and off you go. Imagine if you had to enter a password every time you toggled the Airplane Mode switch and you’ve got the idea.

      You could then customize by selecting which apps your toddler would be able to open and use.

      The cable companies have figured this out. Parental controls allow you to put a password on some channels while leaving others available for the kids to watch.

    10. Michael Wendell

      I’ve been thinking along the same lines for a while, but my concerns are different. I’m less concerned about which apps and videos my daughter might watch, and more concerned about the condition in which my iPhone is returned.

      (The home button was a big frustration for me as well, but at 22 months, she’s learned not to hit that button unless she’s tired of what she’s currently doing. Currently, if I hand her the phone, she has no problem navigating to iPod, clicking Videos, and finding something she likes.)

      For me though, Toddler Mode would simply lock out any ability to move, change or delete apps or data. I can’t count the number of times I’ve gotten the phone back from her with apps missing, and I still can’t figure out how she managed to delete almost all of my videos one day.

    11. Michael Wendell

      Oh… and as for the UI issues (specifically, how to disable Toddler Mode), I think it can simply reside within Settings. However, when you activate TM you will enter a four digit code, like the Passkey, and that code should be requested the next time you run Settings.

      While we’re waiting for Apple to officially ignore this, here’s something you can try… I bought an inexpensive MP3 player case with built-in speakers. It was made of some kind of hard-shell foam rubber and it zipped closed. On the non-speaker side, I made a cutout slightly smaller than the iPhone screen. For car rides I’d drop the phone into it, plug it in, and start a playlist of videos. She could hold the phone, stop and start videos, but couldn’t hit the home button.

      I’m sure you could do some kind of sleeve for the iPad, maybe even integrating some cheap speakers? Good luck!

    12. Pat

      I wish there was a toddler mode that could automatically switch off the WiFi so Toddler doesn’t get into “accidents” My 2 year old is amazingly proficient with the device (but admittedly, not more so than any other toddler). I have found him to be skilled in trial and error and he uses the home key when he backs himself into a corner or comes up against buttons that suggest Open Feint, etc. Favorite programs: TalkingCarl, eliasZOO, Pocket Pond (he calls the iPad “Fishies”) games by Duck Duck Moose (Fish School, Itsy Bitsy Spider, Old McDonald, Wheels on the Bus) Tickle Tap Apps Sound Shaker, elias Farms. I’m trying to inculcate him into the idea of potty training by using Pee Monkey 2, but I have low hopes on that one. Smule magic piano, Babo Crash are also loved. What is really weird is that he knows the apps that are “his” although I haven’t grouped them in any particular way, he just flips through the screens.

    13. Alex Johnson

      This would also be very useful for people who want to lend out an iPad as a single-function device. imagine walking ino ikea, and getting an iPad to design your kitchen in, instead of their awful software? Now imagine the people who are handed an iPad can accidentally press the home button and it DOESN’T take them to a screen they don’t understand.

      This is coming, I hope.

    14. Alex Johnson

      Oh, Also:

      Allow it to be locked to, say, a WIFI base station for security (“This iPad is only authorized for certain networks. It will not work on other networks” etc.) and you won’t be able to walk into a posh reteraunt without being handed an iMenu

    15. Andrew

      Another option for getting out of Toddler Mode: An app that asks you a question a toddler couldn’t know the answer to, sort of like an anti-spam human test. (“Spell orange.”)

      +1 for Toddler Mode, and +1 for Guest Mode, or user switching for iOS.

    16. David

      I had the same thought, our 20-month-old loves to ‘splash’ the fish in Pocket Pond. When I can’t hear the nature sounds anymore I know I have to figure out what she’s getting into.

      As Alex Johnson commented I can see a lot of uses (toddler and commercial) for locking the device into a single app — a sort of kiosk mode. Giving the home button the same behavior as when the device is locked (slide and enter passcode) should be sufficient.

      Also, is anyone making an iPad case/holder/thingy that straps onto a headrest to create an instant seatback display?

    17. Paul

      Why not institute, (dare I say it) profiles for different users. As an admin user you could set what other users have access to. This would allow other adults to use the device without compromising the owners privacy. Perhaps I have mentally damaged by my Microsoft usage…

    18. Richard Dalton

      The “personal device vs social device” is a great insight and one that Apple would do well to think about.

      As for the ‘toddler mode’ … you’re forgetting … Steve doesn’t have any young kids anymore so it wasn’t a priority ;-)

    19. Camilla

      I was impressed at how at 22 months (or thereabouts) my son needed to use a mini mouse with my laptop, for about a week. After that, he could switch back to the trackpad or a full size mouse, when previously those had been uselessly frustrating.

      Once he had learned by experience what mousing was supposed to feel like (we were using tuxpaint in full screen mode, which is already friendly) he was no longer attracted to the right mouse button, or to applying multiple fingers to the trackpad.

      Needing to “lock the dock” so he can’t get rid of all the application icons hasn’t been similarly short-lived – apparently tidying things away is self-reinforcing.

    20. AW

      I’ve thought the same thing. My concept is for business use instead of toddlers, but would work the same. If this isn’t built-in, I would think an app could be created for it also. It could be a ‘shell’ app of sorts. You configure which apps, weblinks, videos, etc., could be accessible in the app settings. Then when you load the app, it would disable the home button. The only way to exit the app would be with a password protected exit button. Of course, this may lead into the multi-tasking issues and it would be much better if you could just have a “toddler” mode or secure profiles. All good ideas and much needed.

    21. Cody

      I agree, this would be perfect for business. I am currently looking for a case that hides the home/power buttons. Has anyone found any? Hopefully one that locks onto the ipad somehow.

    22. kc

      I would so love a toddler mode too. I don’t even realize apps are gone until I go to try and use them. Plus the apps are crazily rearranged each time my guy uses it. It drives me bonkers!!

    23. Eric

      Where can I sign the petition? We have been working on touchscreen applications to kids games for years on the pc. The iPad would be perfect except for the pesky home button. Please add this Apple.

    24. Shuli

      Thanks for addressing the airplane mode issue – so many folks forget about the radiation stuff!

      Toddler mode would be great, and/or alternatively automatically entering such a mode when starting a toddler-oriented app…

    25. Toddler Mom-E

      You freaking rock! Our friends think we are crazy for letting our toddler use our iPad, but he navigates like a pro. At 18 months, he was rewinding movies and switching apps on an iTouch. The iPad is sooo much cooler!

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