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Mobile Communications

Douglas Cohen (South Africa) - Is It Right That I Download Apps For My 2-Year-Old?

Forget about Douglas Adams, Star Trek or Pandora, parenthood is where you find a parallel universe. Yes, there are the cute clothes, the parties and a certain large purple dinosaur. But the messy meal times, midnight bed invasions, and coming to terms with the potty take coffee addiction to a new level to sustain a zombie-like existence. I personally find solace in the fact that I have a wonderful toddler and infant, and that parenthood is a process and rite of passage. One also gets perspective knowing one can also reach out to those who have been there before, learning from their experience and humour really assists in getting through the darker moments. Even more frequently am I reaching out to the smartphone not to check my email or Facebook, but let my toddler “play”.  Seeing the number of toddler friendly apps on iTunes and Andriod Market there is definitely a demand, and not only from/in Asia.

At first I felt guilty. Toddlers should be running and playing outside, not lying in bed watching Peppa Pig on YouTube or matching zoo animals with moo sounds. Maybe I was opting out of being an active parent? Maybe I shouldn’t be exposing children to technology so young? Maybe I feel threatened that toddler will become more tech-savvy than me? But as I close my eyes for another 5-10 minutes more sleep, drifting off to the soft sounds of my child’s giggles and whoops, it’s definitely more of a win-win and therefore guilt free situation.

Give than it was recently announced that Samsung Galaxy S2 has sold 20 million. That's a lot of phones -- not as many as the market leader, the iPhone, but whatever the numbers I believe a lot of kids playing on their parents' smartphones out there. From my pragmatic reading of this market, there are various dynamics, which I outline below:

1.      Games versus Educational

2.      Free app versus Pay

3.      Innovative or Replication

There are a lot of applications out there. “Children” and or “Educational” being two significant subsets. While I believe that when dealing with kids, all education should have an element of fun, however hopefully there is a clear distinction or rather intention between installing Fruit Ninja instead of Shapes, Colours and ABC’s. My approach so far has been to favor the educational route, mainly for my own peace of mind, and second of all they are less addictive. I need to get my phone back at some stage. I also think there will be plenty of time later for games.

The second factor is paid or free. For one, I really think that iTunes have paved the way to trust in micro payments but there is so much free out there that I question that it would have to be something really special to pay for an application that may only entertain my toddler for 23 seconds. Two elements influence my approach here; initially it must free and only after having a real the experience of the application then payment can be considered. Also, there are various indicators what would influence; obviously number of downloads thus far, anything over a million is quite convincing. Endorsements such as “Voted Best Application by Parents” type award also carry some weight.

Finally, some applications are truly innovative. Others are simply replications of existing books, games, toys or other offline activities. In the replication space, some work well but others haven’t taken advantage of the tablet/smartphone platform, the interactivity and multimedia. Just putting a story into application format doesn’t do it for my toddler. That said innovation in this space is really a loaded word. Innovation is great but so is simplicity. Too many bells and whistles actually don’t get used, when all you really want is toddler engagement for more than 23 seconds. Any application can stretch it to 23 minutes really gets my vote.

I am truly inspired by the potential I see from applications, both in my personal, professional and even citizenship roles. Watching my toddler now I am hoping that she is going to be better prepared for the brave new app world to come.

By Douglas Cohen, South African Local Government Association (SALGA)

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