A Parent’s iOS 7 Wish List

Here we are once again patiently awaiting WWDC and the iOS 7 announcements that will likely be made there. I haven’t done this in a while, but sometime back I wrote my wish list for iOS 4. Back then, I was hoping for what I called Simple Springboard to make iOS devices easier and safer for little fingers. Apple has since addressed almost everything on that list, though not in the way I imagined and, frankly, not as completely and elegantly as I think Apple is capable of.

Most of the items on my list were implemented with the Restrictions system, which allows a user to enable particular restrictions on a device. Enabling and disabling restrictions requires a trip to the Settings app and entering a passcode. This works fairly well, but even temporarily disabling a restriction requires launching the Settings app, navigating two layers deep to the Restrictions page, entering the passcode, then disabling the particular restriction. When you’re done and want to re-enable the restriction, you have to repeat all of those steps. For many of the restrictions, this is fine. But there are several actions which I would like to restrict on devices while my kids use them, but I wish to perform often enough that the current mechanism is burdensome.

It’s possible Apple thinks the problem is solved, but I would respectfully disagree. Here are my original wish list items, along with details about where the current system falls short, even if the basic problem has been addressed.

Be restricted to a set of user-specified apps. All other app icons would not appear at all.

The Restrictions system handles this by allowing a parent to specify the maximum app rating for apps displayed on the Springboard. This is fine as long as all of the apps you want your children to have access to are appropriately rated, and that you don’t have any exceptions you would like to give them access to regardless of the rating. For example, for my kids I set this to the 4+ setting. The vast majority of the apps they use are in that group, but there is at least one glaring exception: the YouTube app. There are obvious arguments for not allowing my children access to YouTube, and I am perfectly familiar with the potential risks involved. However, my boys enjoy watching clips from classic Sesame Street and other similar material that I fully approve of. Because the YouTube app is rated 12+, I can’t both lock them down to the 4+ rating and give them easy access to YouTube. Within the current Restrictions system, a list of Exceptions (or is that Additions?) that lets me state that I wish a set of apps to be available regardless of what the App Rating restriction is set to would solve this.

Disallow deleting apps – the whole “jiggly apps” mode would not exist at all.

There is a restriction to prevent deleting apps, and it works quite well. Preventing “jiggly apps” mode is impossible, though, and kids can always rearrange apps on the Springboard. Adding a restriction to prevent rearranging apps would help here.

It should be relatively easy to switch from the “normal” Springboard to the Simple Springboard – perhaps an app icon.

Enabling and disabling Restrictions mode involves navigating the Settings app. This isn’t horrible, but it involves enough steps that many parents might just forgo the whole thing and risk handing the device over unrestricted. Worse, your restriction settings are not saved if you turn restrictions off entirely. Any time you want to re-enable them you have to reconfigure the restrictions to your liking.

Even without implementing all of my Simple Springboard idea, adding an easy way to enable restrictions without having to reconfigure them every time would be a major step in the right direction. iOS has changed since I wrote my original list, and there are a handful of new options for where this switch could live: on the Lock screen or in Notification Center, for example. My top pick would be in what is now called the Accessibility Options menu which appears when you triple tap the home button. In addition to Voice Over and Guided Access, there could be a Enable Restrictions button.

On the other hand, quitting the Simple Springboard should require some complex action, such as entering a user-specified code. If this action starts, but is not completed in a certain (relatively short) period of time, the user should be sent back to the Simple Springboard.

Exiting restricted mode now requires a trip to the Settings app, and entering a passcode. That’s not bad, except that it leaves the rest of the Settings app accessible to little hands. Far better would be a system level mechanism, allowing the Settings app to be protected when restrictions are enabled. Again, there are a handful of places this could go. Pulled down from the top of the screen, in place of Notification Center. In the Accessibility Options menu mentioned above. I’m sure Apple could come up with an elegant solution which bypasses the Settings app.

Apple’s Restriction system goes in the right direction, but doesn’t quite get there. A few changes are all that’s really needed to get it close to the Simple Springboard I described before. To recap:

  • Allow some mechanism of picking specific apps to either appear or not appear when Restrictions are enabled. I think a good approach would be the current App Rating setting, plus an Exceptions (Additions?) list of apps to include even if they are not in the appropriate rating group.
  • Add a Rearranging Apps restriction, alongside the current Installing Apps and Deleting Apps restrictions.
  • Store restriction settings even when Restrictions are disabled entirely.
  • Provide a more convenient method of enabling and disabling restrictions, preferably without launching any app .

There is one idea Apple came up with that I had not thought of, and it’s pretty great. Now that my kids are a little older, I am (mostly) happy handing them an iOS device in restricted mode, but when the boys were younger I would have greatly appreciated the Guided Access feature. A parent can launch one of their kid’s apps, put the device in Guided Access mode, then hand it over and know that their child will only have access to that app. It’s even possible to specify controls to disable, keeping kids out of settings and sales screens. This is really fantastic, but it is an Accessibility feature so many parents may not be aware of it. iPhone toting parents of very young children should definitely take a look at it.

That’s about it for my “as a parent” wish list. As a developer there are a few more items, but most of them have been covered elsewhere. As always, I’m sure Apple will have some exciting new stuff for us, even if we don’t get everything we want.