Are mobile apps child’s play?

Are mobile apps child’s play?

It was only a matter of time, given the relative simplicity of mobile application development: The latest competitive entrant is somebody’s mother.

Make that a lot of mothers. A new “collective” of parents called Moms with Apps recently launched a catalog of family-friendly apps on the iTunes App Store. The group’s goal is to give parents and teachers a tool that points them in the direction of mother-approved apps, and to make it easier to search for educational apps in various categories. More than 200 developers are participating to date, categorizing their more than 600 apps by educational value and age group.   

The Moms with Apps tool includes categories like early learning, math, science and reading, and each app is tagged with recommended ages. It also lets users share apps they discover with friends and family via social networks.

That kind of parental recommendation and supervision couldn’t come soon enough, for some parents in particular. A recent story in the Washington Post highlighted how

An 8-year-old Maryland girl ran up a $1,400 bill from Apple making in-app purchases in the iPhone game Smurfs’ Village to decorate her virtual mushroom home. The incident raised the hackles of parents and children’s advocates who believe in-app purchases are purposely misleading, especially for younger kids who may not understand the difference between real spending and play money.

“…the practice is troubling parents and public interest groups, who say $99 for a wagon of Smurfberries or $19 for a bucket of snowflakes doesn't have any business in a children's game. Though a password is needed to make a purchase, critics say that the safeguards aren't strong enough and that there are loopholes.”

In theory, developments like Moms with Apps will address those issues, perhaps ultimately flagging apps with warnings about in-app purchasing options and other issues of parental concern. But some experts in the educational community believe the mobile app community still has a long way to go to get to the point of being useful and relevant in educational settings. A recent article in the educational journal Education Week highlighted the shortcomings:

“Most apps…don’t allow teachers to monitor student progress or garner student data in the same way that’s typically possible with educational programs operated through a laptop or desktop computer. Apps are often developed narrowly, and by themselves may meet no more than one or two specific standards within a given course.”

Even if mobile app developers have yet to meet the standards of the educational community, the attention of education experts to mobile app development is a positive step—and one that is likely to result in app development that is more in line with the requirements of educators. And there’s no denying the importance of the mom factor when it comes to mobile app discovery and usage. The youth market represents a tremendous and undeniable opportunity for developers, but it’s also one that must be pursued carefully to be sure the results are in the best interest of the user targets. And who better to judge that but mom?  

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