Mobile app development is a complex line of business, and it is even more complicated when the target users represent a special demographic group. In this particular instance, we are talking about children. There is an increasing demand for mobile apps aimed at preschool and school-aged children and various companies are more than eager to fulfill this demand.

What You Need to Know about COPPA

COPPA stands for Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. It was adopted in 1998 and it strictly regulates what companies must do if the target users of their websites and mobile app (by extension) are children under 13 years old.

The core regulations included in COPPA are:

  • Personal data items which need protection cover the maximum extent permitted by the law, and they include the physical and IP address, any graphic, audio and video file identifying the child, individual cookies stored on the computer or mobile device;

  • Any time a new child user interacts with the app (download, installation) the app owners should require a parent’s credentials and they should receive a notification requesting their consent for the child to interact with the app. Such credentials include any verifiable government-issued document, a consent form to be filled in, signed and sent by email or fax, or a toll-free line which the parent can call and give their consent directly to an operator;

  • Parents should be given full details of their child’s personal data collected by the app, as well as the right to refuse sharing this information and to prevent their child from further interacting with the app;

  • Enforcing strictly gated access to payment options of the mobile app, which should be accessible only to parents by password or other verifiable credentials.

It is of critical importance to read all the regulations of the COPPA and incorporate them in your mobile app aimed at children. App stores, such as Apple App Store and Google Play, are extremely careful in reviewing apps for children before they accept these apps. Thus, if your app is not fully compliant, it will not even make its way into an app store.

Designing Apps for Children Is No Child’s Play

After having covered the legal requirements concerning the development of mobile apps for children, let’s move on to the next key issue: how to develop apps which are easy to use and appealing to children.

Children are a very specific category of mobile app users. They are not fully developed physically, psychologically and intellectually and, by definition, have a very short attention span. Some apps are aimed at preschool-aged children who do not know how to read or write, so menus and any form of interaction with the user must be designed to focus on graphic and video information exchange.

These are some key considerations which you should take into account when designing apps for children:

1. User Interface: Large Icons and Full-Screen Menus

Children have not yet developed full command of the fine gestures and movement of their hands and fingers. Therefore, swipe and tap areas must be large, taking into account this imprecision in physical interaction with the smartphone or tablet screen.

Text should be kept to a bare minimum and always accompanied by large, self-explanatory icons. These icons can be found on educational websites or developed in partnership with a licensed child psychologist.

2. Graphic Design: Children Perceive Colors Differently from Adults

A child will not understand the concepts of love or fear when they see the color red. They will not associate purple, silver and black with premium services and luxury. In short, everything you know about the psychological meaning of colors in not applicable in the case of children. Their eyes and brains are still under development – they do not perceive pastel colors and slightly varied tones of a primary color.

Take inspiration from coloring books and children’s book: they all use bright and contrasting colors. Children can perceive these colors and react emotionally to them. The brighter, the better.

3. User Experience: Consider How and Where the App Will Be Used

Is your app an educational or an entertaining one? Will it be used in school, or at home? Depending on the environment and the type of usage, your app development should include provisions for:

  • Multiple users (in school, desk mates usually share the same tablet);

  • Adapting screen brightness and contrast (children will use the smartphone in their room, after the parents turn off the light);

  • Movement (many parents keep their children busy with a mobile app while driving to and from school).

4. User Experience: Create a Fast-Loading App

As we have already stated, children have a short attention span. This is why one of the key aspects to consider when developing your app is fast loading on a wide variety of devices – even if it means reducing the level of animations and 3D graphics. Also keep in mind that children do not have an adult’s reaction. They will not simply leave the app, but keep tapping on the screen until something happens. A high redundancy level of interaction is thus a must-have feature to incorporate in your app.