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Tips, tricks and general advice for parents with Apple-based tablets or smartphones and inexhaustibly curious 2-to-3-year-olds
A recent tablet and smartphone pet peeve — since my toddler’s starting to poke around my iPad and iPhone for spelling apps and matching games and anything with “choo-choos” — is that iOS isn’t terribly good on its own at defending itself from dexterous little fingers coupled to inexhaustibly curious sponge-minds. I’m probably not telling moms and dads with little ones older than mine anything they don’t already know, but it’s pretty clear at this point that Apple’s still coming to terms with this whole emerging “toddlers and tablets” thing.
To be sure, Apple offers dozens of securing mechanisms: digital locks, clasps, latches and bolts with which you can secure your iOS device. But those settings take some thinking about and going through (they’re scattered throughout the interface, some in less obvious places than others). And while Apple does support iOS configuration profiles using special files at the enterprise level, there’s no consumer-friendly way on an iPad or iPhone to save all your settings to an “adult profile” versus a “kid’s one” for easy swap-outs, say you need to shift from “sky’s the limit” freedom to “underground concrete bunker” mode often and quickly.
Consider the most probable usage scenarios involving parents with tablets and/or smartphones today: Parents have been hearing for years that giving kids carte blanche access to tablets or smartphones is a no-no, so chances are that any tablets or smartphones used by toddlers in today’s households are shared units, the lion’s share of that time going to parents.
I can’t fix iOS’s innate limitations, but I can share some of the tricks I’ve learned in recent months. Consider this a reference guide to iOS’s lockdown settings, a toddler-proofing checklist you can step through taking only what makes sense for your own usage scenario(s), which may differ from mine.
We’ll start with a cleanly reset iPad Mini running iOS 7.1.1. And since I can already visualize the incoming emails telling me this: While I assume there may well be ingenious jailbreak-related solutions to some of these problems, I’m aiming this piece at iOS users who’d rather solve the problem without having to play the jailbreak game.
Consider Disabling Wi-Fi
Does your toddler really need Wi-Fi? This should be your first stop in iOS Settings. Some apps, like PBS Kids, require continuous Internet access to stream video content, while others, like Endless ABC, require none.
How to do it: Visit Wi-Fi in Settings and flip the switch to off. If you want to ensure your child can’t accidentally reenable Wi-Fi (and automatically connect to a network), you’ll want to click any joined networks, then select Forget This Network. While you can disable Safari in Restrictions, Apple doesn’t allow you to disable web traffic entirely (meaning permitted apps with their own browser interfaces can still get out), so killing network access is the only surefire way to block web access entirely.
Disable the Notifications and Today Views in the Lock Screen
Once I’ve locked my iOS devices for toddler use, I disable the lock screen to prevent my child from accidentally invoking it and locking himself out. But if you want to use a passcode, disabling the Notifications View and Today View will keep your child from inadvertently revealing and clicking through that drop-down screen while the drawbridge is up.
How to do it: Visit Notification Center under Settings and disable the respective switches. If you like, you can also scroll down in this view and ensure notifications from some or all apps are disabled, even when the phone’s unlocked.
Disable Control Center
Want to keep your child from futzing with Airplane Mode, turning on Wi-Fi, locking the orientation or enabling the camera LED (flashlight mode) from iOS’s swipe-up Control Center? Alas, you can’t if your kid is on the Home screen, but you can prevent Control Center from appearing in apps, where it might confuse or frustrate your child as he or she is trying to perform similar in-app gestures.
How to do it: Visit Control Center in Settings and disable Access on Lock Screen as well as Access Within Apps.
Enable Do Not Disturb
This tip’s an alternative to disabling notifications by app. You can schedule Do Not Disturb to run at certain times of the day, or simply flip a switch to leave it on full-time. While enabled, it disables incoming calls and alerts.
How to do it: Visit Do Not Disturb in Settings and either tap Scheduled to establish your “off” interval, or flip the Manual switch to turn it on indefinitely. Note that you can optionally allow incoming calls from Favorites, as well as allow calls from someone who tries calling repeatedly within a three-minute interval.
Enable Guided Access
If you want to limit your toddler’s access to a single app, you can do so using a tucked-away little feature called Guided Access. Using it, you can tweak everything from whether the sleep/wake and volume buttons work, to whether iOS recognizes touch or motion based input, right down to which areas on the screen you want to disable, specifically.
How to do it: Visit General in Settings, click Accessibility, then enable Guided Access under the Learning subsection. Follow by launching the desired app, then triple-clicking the Home button to enable the feature. If you enable the Accessibility Shortcut, you can triple-click the Home button to summon the Guided Access interface while in the application (it’ll prompt you for a passcode, which you’ll set up when you first enable the feature in Settings).
The only caveat is that at present, Guided Access is limited to one app at a time, so your toddler can’t switch between it and others when boredom kicks in. In an ideal world, future versions of Guided Access would include a way to navigate between approved apps, allowing you to effectively roll your own custom play-space.
Disable Multitasking Gestures
Ever swiped your way entirely out of an app when all you meant to do was scroll left or right? I’m betting the odds go up — way up — if you’re a 2- or 3-year-old. Turn this iPad-specific feature off to ensure that errant pinches or swipes don’t eject your child from whatever they’re doing.
How to do it: Visit General in Settings and flip Multitasking Gestures to off.
This one’s the single most important feature in iOS, as far as I’m concerned (Apple really ought to pull this up a level and give it top-tier billing). It’s where you can fine tune everything from whether Safari appears as an icon on the Home screen to disabling in-app purchases to filtering content using rating metrics.
How to do it: Visit General in Settings and click Enable Restrictions. You’ll have to set a four-digit numeric passcode, which governs subsequent access.
Let’s walk through most of these as bullet points.
- Disabling Safari, Camera and FaceTime are great ways to safeguard your child from browser access. They also prevent meddling with the camera (or fiddling with your photos) and prevent from initiating (or receiving) unintentional or unwanted FaceTime calls.
- Disabling iTunes Store, Installing Apps, Deleting Apps and In-App purchases are all self-evident and pretty much mandatory if you want to safeguard your wallet.
- Siri, AirDrop and CarPlay are less problematic (and AirDrop and CarPlay are pretty scenario-specific). The only downer here is that disabling Siri, which is easily invokable otherwise, doesn’t disable Voice Control, meaning all your child has to do is hold down the Home button to conjure Apple’s intractable voice command overlay.
- If you want to allow partial access to select websites, the Allowed Content section lets you fiddle settings for music, movies, websites and so forth.
- If you want to dictate which native iOS features that apps can and can’t access, Privacy settings lets you do so for pretty much everything, from location services to contacts to calendars and more. (I turn on settings like Limit Ad Tracking, then disable access to everything. Note this also takes care of everything in the separate top-tier Privacy settings view located just below Passcode.)
- Be sure to disable access to Accounts in the Allow Changes subsection if you want to forbid your child from adding, removing or modifying your Mail, Contacts or Calendar accounts.
- Disable Multiplayer Games and Adding Friends under the Game Center subsection to prevent your child from unwittingly initiating multiplayer games or adding strangers to your friends list.
Put Your iPhone or iPad in a Protective Case
It probably goes without saying, but since we’re talking about toddler-proofing, I’ll finish with a reminder to buy a rugged case that wraparound-protects your iOS device(s), to mitigate damage from accidental drops.
And this related suggestion ought to go without saying: I’ve found having my little guy use these devices on softer surfaces (as opposed to concrete or hardwood ones) is safest, even with an ultra-rugged case, since when he gets bored…well, let’s just say he’s found his pitching arm, and everything he can lift eventually becomes a fastball.
That covers everything I’m doing to safeguard the time (not a lot) I allow my child to noodle with my iPad or iPhone on a given day. If you have your own tips or tricks to add, I’d love to hear them.
What I’m not covering is all the stuff iOS ought to do (or let parents do), but presently doesn’t. Here’s a list of things I’d like to see iOS do — say making it possible to lock icons on the Home screen so they can’t be moved around, or creating “walled-off” screens that require pin access to enter or leave — to make my life as the parent of a child growing up with tablets and smartphones a little less anarchic.
Getting a new Android phone into shape takes some effort, but it's worth it.
There’s nothing like that new phone feeling. One minute, you’re marveling over your slab of plastic and metal, and the next, you’re panicking over how much work you’ll have to do to set it up and figure out how to use it.
The experience doesn’t have to be so painful, however. If you just bought a new Android phone like the Samsung Galaxy S5 or HTC One (M8), this 10-step process will leave you with a clean, easy-to-use and fully-functional phone, without any clutter or annoyances.
Step 1: Skip the Setup Junk
If you buy an Android phone from a major wireless carrier, chances are the setup process is a minefield of sign-ins for services you don’t need. Should you have a Samsung account? Maybe, just to claim this handful of freebies, but it’s not essential. Do you need cloud storage from AT&T or Verizon? Definitely not.
The only thing you should absolutely do during the setup process is plug in your Google account credentials, as this will let you download apps and connect you with multiple useful Google services at the same time.
Step 2: Wipe the Slate Clean
See all those apps and widgets that are cluttering up your home screen already? Get rid of them all and start from scratch. On many phones (including Samsung’s Galaxy S series), you can do this easily by pinching on the home screen. You’ll get a zoomed-out view of all your home screen pages, from which you can create a blank home screen and drag the old, cluttered ones into the trash.
Don’t worry; you won’t actually delete any apps this way. Everything’s still available through the app tray, which appears as a little grid icon at the bottom of each home screen. From there, you can add just the apps and widgets you really need. We’ll get rid of the rest in the next step.
Step 3: Remove the Bloatware
The unpleasant reality of Android phones is that they tend to come with a lot of unwanted junk. To remove the clutter, head to your phone’s settings menu, then to the “Apps” or “Applications” section, and find the subsection titled “All.”
This section is a bit confusing, because it includes not just standalone apps, but core system functions, and you don’t want to remove any of the latter. As a general rule, an app is safe to remove if it also appears in your app tray (see step 2). Go through this list and remove anything you don’t want. Some apps can’t be removed entirely, but can still be disabled.
Don’t freak out if you see a warning about removing or disabling built-in apps. Again, as long as it’s an actual app that appears in the app tray, you should be able to get rid of it without problems.
Step 4: Tweak Your Gmail settings
The Android version of Gmail is great, but you may not like some of its default settings. Open the app, and look for the three dots in the top-right corner (or press your phone’s menu button) and hit “Settings.” Tap on your e-mail address and tap on “Inbox sound & vibrate.” If you get too many e-mails, like I do, you’ll definitely want to hit “Sound” and select “Silent” so your phone isn’t constantly blurting out noises.
Now, back out to the main settings menu and select “General settings.” If you’d rather delete e-mails than archive them, hit “Archive & delete actions” and hit “Show delete only.” Now, you can delete e-mails just by swiping to the right. You’ll also see a delete button when viewing e-mails in the notification bar.
Step 5: Set Photo Backups to Unlimited
Many new Android phones include an app called Google+ Photos, which can automatically back up any photo or video you take on your phone. It’s a must-have app for keeping your memories safe, and you can get it as part of the main Google+ app if you don’t have it already.
There’s just one problem: By default, Google+ Photos backs up everything at full resolution. This counts against your 15 GB Google storage limit and could eventually keep you from getting e-mail unless you pay for more storage. To fix this, go to the app’s Settings menu, hit Auto Backup and set Photo size to “Standard.” Now, you can upload unlimited photos, capped at a resolution of 2048 pixels wide. That’s still good enough to view on any screen.
Step 6: Check Your Google Play Store Settings
You just spent all that time cleaning up your home screen in Step 2; now you have to make sure your new apps don’t crash the party.
Open Google Play Store, swipe to the right, hit “Settings,” and uncheck the box that says “Add icon to Home screen.” Your new apps will be available in the app tray, which appears as a little grid icon at the bottom of each home screen.
You may also want to disable notifications for app updates from the same menu.
Step 7: Set Up Android Device Manager
Device Manager is the Android equivalent of Apple’s “Find My iPhone,” allowing you to locate, wipe or lock a lost or stolen phone. To check on your settings, open the Google Settings app (separate from your phone’s main Settings app), and go to “Android Device Manager.” From here, you can decide which remote management features you’d like to enable. Once you’ve set it up, bookmark the Android Device Manager website for easy access later.
Step 8: Get Some Apps
This one’s obvious, but you’ll probably want some new Android apps to go with your new Android phone. Here are 50 of our favorites.
Step 9: Tastefully Place Some Widgets
Widgets are one of the best features of Android, allowing you to glance at information or quickly perform an action straight from your home screen, but they’re also easy to get wrong. Some widgets are ugly, some fail to update reliably, some drain your battery, and some just aren’t that useful. Instead of larding up your phone with bad widgets, pick a handful that you really like, and put one or two on each of your home screens, organized by genre or purpose. Here are 14 of our favorites.
Step 10: Get a Handle On Notifications
Now that you’ve installed a bunch of apps, you may find that some are being obnoxious, and flooding you with unwanted notifications.
Here’s an easy way to silence the offenders: Head to your phone’s settings, and go to the “Applications” or “Apps” section. Under the “Downloaded” tab, select any app you’d rather not hear from, and uncheck the box for “Show notifications.” This will override any settings within the app itself, and it’s strangely satisfying.
This is just a starting point–a way to get your phone to look good and run smoothly. When you’re ready for more hints and tips, check out our list of essentials for Android users and seven tips every smartphone owner should know.
Marc Gurman over at 9to5Mac is reporting that Apple’s latest mobile operating system, iOS 8, will bring with it the ability to run two apps side-by-side on an iPad.
Apple is expected to unveil iOS 8 (and other goodies) at its developer conference, which runs June 2 to June 6.
Gurman only cites unnamed “sources with knowledge of the enhancement in development,” but he’s got a solid track record with Apple rumors. And this is a feature iPad users have been requesting for quite some time, so this seems like a somewhat safe bet by Apple-rumors standards. It’s also, as Gurman reminds us, a feature Microsoft uses to set its own Surface tablets apart from the iPad.
Assuming the rumor pans out, this feature would extend beyond simple screen-splitting.
In addition to allowing for two iPad apps to be used at the same time, the feature is designed to allow for apps to more easily interact, according to the sources. For example, a user may be able to drag content, such as text, video, or images, from one app to another. Apple is said to be developing capabilities for developers to be able to design their apps to interact with each other. This functionality may mean that Apple is finally ready to enable “XPC” support in iOS, which means that developers could design App Store apps that could share content.
The split-screening would apparently work for the full-size iPad, and in landscape mode, but it’s unknown whether it’d extend to the iPad Mini. If this feature is indeed coming, we’ll hear more straight from Apple in a few short weeks.