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If iPads Were Meant for Kids

I bought my kids (6 and 8) their own iPads last fall. I’m a nice guy, and I’m fortunate to be able to afford it. However, I’ve come to realize that despite my attempts to spoil my kids, these iPads — and all iOS devices in general — are not meant for young children.

I realize this might be a controversial statement, especially because it runs counter to a lot of Apple’s advertising. But hear me out.

If iPads were meant for kids, there would be ways to lock down a device more than iOS currently allows. My kids don’t need passcodes on their devices. They don’t need push notifications. They don’t need Wallet or Apple Pay. Or custom keyboards. Or the option to change the region or date. They don’t need almost anything in the Settings app.

If iPads were meant for kids, there would be a way for apps to know what the allowed content ratings are. An app should be able to know that I’ve allowed only G- and PG-rated media on the device. The YouTube app wouldn’t need its own rating system, and would have some WebKit API to call to know to allow only kid-appropriate videos.

If iPads were meant for kids, there would be a way to limit how long they can use their iPads. They’d get reminders when they have 15… 10… 5… 1… minute left of usage time, after which the device would lock and they wouldn’t be able to get back in without the parental passcode.

If iPads were meant for kids, there would be a way to make the iPad turn off when it’s bedtime and not turn on again until morning. My son sometimes sneaks into our room and takes his iPad back from wherever we’ve stashed it, and then stays up until nearly midnight playing Angry Birds.

If iPads were meant for kids, there would be a way to disable or hide all their games temporarily when they’re supposed to be doing their homework. But you can’t “hide” apps without straight-up deleting them. And all of the remote management systems out there that allow this require device supervision (and not just MDM) and are a complete pain to set up and administer.

If iPads were meant for kids, there would be a way for parents to remotely monitor how the kids are using their iPads. I’d have a dashboard view of how long they’re spending in each app, and when they last used it, so I could verify that when they say they spent 15 minutes doing their homework in Lexia, they aren’t trying to hide that they were really playing Angry Birds. I’d get to see what insipid YouTube videos they’re watching, and I’d be able to remotely instruct the YouTube app to no longer allow videos that teach them to take their toys apart and repurpose them using Super Glue and nail polish.

If iPads were meant for kids, the parent remote control app on my iPhone would let me install apps on their iPads remotely. Ask-to-buy is pretty good, but I don’t want my kids having access to the App Store at all, because then they tend to bug me to install the latest hot game. And then they end up whining about how they can’t make any progress because I refuse to pay to unlock whatever gems/crystals/coins they need to advance.

If iPads were meant for kids, there would be a way to completely turn off the idiotic “Finish setting up this device” nag that largely forces kids (because Red Dots Are Annoying™) to set passcodes they immediately forget. Again, my kids don’t need passcodes on their devices.

If iPads were meant for kids, there would be a way to disable iMessage and FaceTime entirely except for a couple of allowed addresses. They can text daddy, mommy, grandma, and maybe some of their favorite aunts/uncles/cousins.

If iPads were meant for kids, then I, as a parent, would be able to set a parent passcode on a device to unlock it. Even when the kids have forgotten their passcodes for the 17th time, so I don’t have to spend another hour or two getting the device into DFU mode, reinstalling iOS, and then re-downloading all of the apps they had that have now lost all of their locally stored data. (See “What to Do If Your iPad Gets Disabled By Too Many Passcode Entries,” 15 January 2018.)

If iPads were meant for kids, there would be real parental controls, not hacks that involve abusing the accessibility functionality of the devices. Guided Access just doesn’t cut it.

If iPads were meant for kids, I would not be writing this post.

But, since none of these things exist and this post does, I have to conclude that iPads were not meant for kids. It boggles my mind that Apple pretends that they are because everything about iOS leads you to the inevitable conclusion that it’s only for tech-savvy adults.

[Dave DeLong has years of experience developing Mac and iOS apps, including 7 years with Apple working as an engineer on the UIKit framework, a developer relations evangelist, lead engineer on the WWDC app, and an engineer on the Maps team. He is currently a Senior iOS Engineer at Snap, Inc.]

A previous version of this article appeared on Dave DeLong’s blog and is reprinted here with permission.

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