I began working in children’s media not long after Steve Jobs returned to Apple. Those were the days of CD-ROMs, when we had to fight those who controlled the purse strings to allow us to make Mac-compatible games even though it was such a small part of the computer market. There was always a sense that they were just a bit more kid-friendly, with the cleaner design to the operating system. Then came the line of candy-colored iMacs, the first computer to stand up and scream “I’M FOR KIDS!”
Then the children’s market started moving away from computers. Leap Frog and other companies were making devices for the living room floor. Companies tried their hand at interactive DVDs and plug-and-play devices. Everyone was searching for that special something.
Steve Jobs was the visionary behind that special something. Special somethings, that is. When the iPhone came out, people thought developers were nuts for making apps for kids. There were only a few out there at first, because, really, what parent is going to hand their pristine expensive smartphone to their booger-fingered little kids? But hand them over they did. My daughter was 3 when we got our iPhones. I remember my jaw dropping to the floor when I first saw her swiping through the pages of apps and finding the one she wanted.
It’s a very abstract thing for a toddler to use a mouse. Move the thing on the desk and it moves the little picture on screen. With touchscreen technology, finally there was a direct cause-and-effect relationship between a child’s touch and the screen’s response. Plus you can tilt it, and blow in it, and wiggle it, and shake it to do all kinds of amazing things.
Then Apple gave kids that experience but bigger. Again, when iPads came out, people cried that greasy-handed little kids would drop it and break it. And then you see it fits so nicely on their little laps. And the screen is big enough to play with Mom or Dad. There’s also the wonderful sense that the iPhone and iPad are for everything. They’re not just for games or just for learning. They’re not just for watching or for reading. They’re all of those things and more, tied to the power of communication. They’re also an amazing tool in the parenting arsenal. Would I have gotten through my son’s first year without my daughter being able to independently stream Netflix on the iPad? I’m not sure.
We, the people who design games for kids, need to live up to the promise of this technology. I think we’ve only scraped the surface of the play experience we can give kids using the tools Steve Jobs left behind. Imagine the technology behind Siri in an app for kids!
Steve Jobs, you forever changed my work and my life. You’ve brought my family so much pleasure. For that, iThank You.