Those of us who work with (and raise) kids have been anxiously awaiting the launch of the YouTube Kids app. Is it everything we've hoped for?
At first glance, there’s a lot to like here: appropriate-for-children videos and channels grouped into categories for shows, music, education and exploration. It’s COPPA-compliant and free. There’s a lovely, clutter-free interface without commenting. And parents can appreciate a built-in, password-protected timer to limit screen time.
So, what’s not to like? Well, a lot, actually.
For one, the name is a complete misnomer — it’s more like YouTube Toddler. The content skews extremely young (think Peppa Pig, Sesame Street and Thomas & Friends).
Nothing wrong with that age group, but I would argue that YouTube poses a bigger challenge to parents of elementary schoolers and tweens, who can get into a lot more hot water stumbling upon or searching for content in YouTube.
Personally, I would love some help limiting the amount of Jessie my daughter watches, to have tools to help curate music videos for great songs that may not have ideal video content, or to better control access to some of the YouTube teen stars she has unfettered access to inside YouTube proper without my constant hovering/snooping.
Speaking of content, there are currently no options to set or choose filtering categories, and you can’t subscribe to any of the channels your child may like.
While the screen time limit is a great feature, the passlock stops working when your kid can read because your password is given to you as spelled-out numbers (like zero four one seven). Once a kid learns to read (my youngest did at age three) this feature is null since they can easily hack and reset the timer.
And can we talk about ads?
As a kid app developer, I know firsthand that being ad-supported is a huge no-no, especially for the pre-K audience. Under the age of eight, most kids don’t understand that commercials are for selling a product. Children six and under are unable to distinguish program content from commercials, especially if their favorite character is promoting the product. While the YouTube Kid app ads are heavily vetted and curated to be kid-safe, this app is chock full of them.
A YouTube and Google feature we adore is Chromecast, and it’s surprisingly absent from the app. Being able to cast shows to different devices is a huge boon for parents, which then frees up their device for other uses.
And finally, for parents with Apple devices, the app requires iOS 7. There’s a large universe of kids on iPods, and on slightly “older” devices (read: two year old Touch) that are locked out of an iOS upgrade path due to changes in Apple support. It’s typical of parents to get a new device and hand the old one to a child, so it’s unfortunate that there isn’t a bit more backward compatibility to support this known usage pattern.
Am I happy that YouTube has recognized that adolescents need a walled playground for video exploration? You bet. Do I think there’s significant room for improvement post-launch? Absolutely.
Photos courtesy of PlaceIt