Finley with iPadThe iPad is being promoted as a product for all the family, so how does it perform against standard usability criteria when the user is just 17 months old?

Having recently spent a fortnight with my young grandson, Finley, in the USA, we offered to share our experience of the iPad as a serious business tool for toddlers with the UK Usability Professionals Association at their recent PechaKucha Night

This format was devised in Tokyo in February 2003 as a format for young designers to show their work, each presentation being 20 slides each lasting 20 seconds. (Our average age is 32, so we count as young.)

Of course, part of the point of the event is to be light-hearted and entertaining (and I hope we were) but we did have a serious point to make. Toddlers are very serious about two tasks – exploring their world and eating. The iPad is great for the first, and survives the consequences of the second (smooth, wipe-clean surfaces).

Inevitably, I referred to the ISO 9241-11 concept of usability in terms of effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction. Finley, as the user, elaborated on these:

  • Effective:  lots of effective apps to explore.
  • Efficient: a natural interface which is efficient for young hands and motor skills.
  • Satisfaction: it’s fun.

We found the iPad did well on all three factors with thousands of really great apps for kids (and some not so great but cheap enough not to be a problem. 

Finley particularly likes ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’ from which is full of interactive features that baffle his grandpa, but not him (we used to sing it to his mum as Incy Wincy Spider but it’s recognisable none the less).

We both have a favourite drawing app which bristles with options. It’s called Drawing Pad from At the moment, ‘stickers’ are Finley’s preferred medium and the multi-touch interface is a joy even with small gooey fingers.

Less good, some of the apps are very American (I expect he may develop a transatlantic twang) and as Jakob Nielsen pointed out, there are inconsistencies between apps. 

As toddlers do, he particularly likes pressing the home button (the only button on the top) and seeing how nervous grandpa becomes when he explores my email! I’d like to be able to lock it so I know he can’t send his drawings to my clients.

But as a device which encourages exploration, exhibits endless patience (even at 4am in the morning, good old jet lag) and survives sticky fingers, we believe the iPad is a serious business tool for toddlers. I have actually found it useful too, but that’s another article.

Ipad for kids

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