Apple’s made strides in recent years toward making iOS kid-friendlier, but any parent who’s handed their iPad or iPhone to their toddler, even for a few minutes, knows how touch and go things still are. One minute the child’s happily dropping letters into words or words into sentences, the next they’re clicking through Settings, enabling or disabling things they have no concept of, or maybe poking around your social networks, inadvertently deploying strings of gibberish.
Give “8 Ways to Toddler-Proof Your iPhone or iPad” a read if you want a rundown of all your lockdown options in iOS 7 today, then see if you don’t agree with these toddler-proofing feature requests. They needn’t be implemented exactly as listed here — Apple’s supposed to be the genius-level design outfit after all, not me — but I’d love to see someone at Cupertino take them seriously. I could see an entire numerical iOS iteration devoted to child-proofing features. Speaking as a parent, it’s that big a deal to me.
Fast-Swap User Profiles
I get it: Apple wants to make the iPad as obvious and uncluttered as possible. Profiles sound like something you’d do with a PC, everything shoved into walled columns. iOS is supposed to be post-PC — as simple as reading a book. Books don’t have profiles, you just pick them up and start reading.
But that assumes you’re an adult, not a little kid, and Apple’s assumptions about who’s using its devices make iOS a problematic environment to regulate, whether you’re trying to keep your wee one from unintentionally calling your boss, or simply ensuring they’re not being distracted by ancillary iOS features they don’t know how to control or dismiss.
Fast-swap user profiles would provide the foundation for the sort of curated play-space a toddler needs. Make the swap itself a gesture that prompts for a passcode, or put a button in the Control Center — whatever works best. But at least give parents the option. There’s no magical child-adult interface that works for everyone. Not yet. And while we’re waiting for something smart and semantic enough to get the job done, profiles would help parents better navigate that fact.
Why can’t I lock access to Settings at the Home screen level, to prevent my child from throwing switches iOS won’t let me hide (like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth) with restrictions fully enabled? Why can icons on the Home screen be locked in place (or just certain ones) so they can’t be dragged around or accidentally dropped into containers? Why can’t I disable the Messages, Mail and Music icons, or all the other front page apps I wouldn’t want a child poking around in (Calendar, Photos, Contacts, Maps, Videos, etc.)? Why can’t I turn off Control Center and/or Notification Center entirely?
Restrictions that Remember What You Picked
Profiles would solve this, in theory, assuming restrictions followed each profile. But assuming we won’t see profiles soon…
Restrictions are already pretty granular, which is great if you want to micromanage iOS usage scenarios. However, they’re bad if you’re in a hurry and need to reenable five or six things, but you can’t be bothered to hunt them down. Most days, I just tap Disable Restrictions. The problem’s that when I reenable Restrictions, all the settings are back to defaults. Never mind profiles, just allow Restrictions to remember your settings, and put a “reset” button somewhere for users who want the reset-to-defaults option.
Guided Access that’s Multi-App Inclusive
Guided Access — a very cool iOS feature if you’re not already using it — currently lets you lock your iPad or iPhone to a single app, then control which features are accessible. It’s a firewall that can temporarily turn an iOS device into a singular experience, protecting the rest of your workspace from accidental input and keeping your little one focused by eliminating accidentally invoked dialogue-panel-related distractions.
Trouble is, Guided Access is limited to one app at a time, so your child can’t switch between it and others when boredom kicks in. I’d love to see Apple offer the option to navigate between multiple approved apps, all regulated by Guided Access, allowing you to craft your own custom play-spaces.
For some reason, I assumed iOS already had this, probably because everything else does. OS X has Parental Controls, for instance: elaborate profile-based strictures that include the option to limit apps, allow access to only specific websites, dictate who the user can interact with and set time limits for weekdays, weekends and bedtimes. iOS really needs all of the above, but minimally a time limits option, so parents can restrict how many minutes or hours in a day the device is available.
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Write to Matt Peckham at email@example.com