Apple may be user centric but they need to become family centric

Apple may be user centric but they need to become family centric Apple is well known for being user centric, for creating experiences that “just work”. The extreme example of this is the infamous moment captured by infants all over the world using an iPad the day it came out.

I had that same experience with my family. I placed the iPad on the coffee table and my then-two-year old walked in, swiped to unlock it, and just started going about his business on a device as though he has been using it for years.

Recently though, it feels like Apple has lost its way. Many parts of the Apple ecosystem and device experiences don’t work, and others have frustrating choices. The most obvious one there is the shift key on the keyboard. Surely it would be more usable to do as other platforms do and change the characters from lower to upper case? Or at the very least make it obvious to know if the shift mode is on or not. I may be slow, but I still make mistakes.

As a parent, and person responsible for having the tech work in the household, I have never felt so much pain. If I could go back in time, I would choose the moment I signed up for Family Share ™ (not the night before my wedding! ;)).

Before the Family Share feature I had all devices running on my account. This had its own pain points, which is why I was so excited for the new feature and rich support for parent => child relationships, but it worked.

Let us compare the steps that my kids take when they want to watch a particular video shall we?

Before Family Share:

  • Open “Videos” app
  • Scroll to find the video they want
  • ASIDE: The notion of “Movie” vs. “TV Show” is lost on them and is a reason why my one year old can’t find what he wants at times
  • Tap on the video
  • Tap on the play button
  • At this point there can be issues for the really young ones if they are part way through the video

After Family Share:

  • Open “Videos” app
  • The video they want isn’t there, huh?
  • Have to go into iTunes
  • Go to “Purchased” as the video was bought under someone else’s profile
  • Select the right person (i.e. “Dion Almaer” in my case)
  • Get out of “Music” and instead go to movies or videos
  • Download the video in question
  • Go back to the “Videos” app and play it

As you can imagine, for many kids that could do the old way just fine, it is totally untenable for them to accomplish the task now, so it is up to the parents to make sure that all content is downloaded and available.

I used to wonder if the development teams were all young pups without kids, but chances are there are various legacy reasons and restrictions in play… but the end result is that iOS and OS X doesn’t work half as well as it could for the family use cases.

It is time for our core platforms to have first class support for how families want these things to work.

Modern Family

We have parents, extended family, and children. We have talked about media, but there are problems throughout the entire process. Managing photos is still so painful. The shared albums don’t handle what I want. I have scripts and importers that run to do what Apple should do for me.

I want photos from myself and my wife to go into the same place. Then, let me filter “By Dion” for the view use cases that may call for that. It is rare that I don’t want this to happen, and thus need an exclusion path. Those cases tend to be:

  • Screenshots: if you just put these in a special folder I would be set (as Android does)
  • Saving photos vs. taking photos (e.g. that funny quote on Facebook that doesn’t need to show up on my TV photo stream)

In the same way, although we need a way to make sure that the movies that Mum buys (50 Shades of Crap) aren’t there for little Jimmy, 99% of the time a rule of “anything in the kids section” or “rated for the given age” would be just fine. I know that many argue over ratings though.

Beyond sharing, there are other areas of frustration (strategic and tactical). In theory having my son try to buy something and have it come to my phone or other device to approve is perfect. Spot on. However in practice it rarely works for me. Sometimes I don’t get the notification. Other times I approve it but it doesn’t start downloading. If I go to “approve in person” I end up putting in passwords THREE TIMES. At this point I wish that my kid could say “I want this”, have the parent approve, and have it just show up.

I have also wasted an age on my kids iPads. Just the other day whenever I tried to play something on one device it would say “Sorry, this content is no longer shared with you”. For some of the apps I could delete and re-download. For others I needed to get more drastic.

Next up I was unable to backup a device. Although iCloud said I had 4.8GB free on the “free” plan, it wouldn’t work (giving no error message). I happened to see something strange where on one screen the amount used was off. I bumped the account to the 20GB plan and it worked great. I then went to downgrade right away and it wouldn’t let me. It still won’t, even though I have 19GB available of the 20GB. On another device I am unable to upgrade to 8.4. No reason given. I nuke the “download” and start again to no avail.

So much for just works these days huh, especially if it touches iCloud.

What the platform could do

Ignoring the tactical, a platform with family baked into it could offer so much for all. As a parent I would love to do things like:

  • Setup rules or a point system so Timmy can play Angry Birds after he is done with his Duolingo and Khan Academy work
  • Take a peak before he watches something (real time approval)
  • Remote administration of the devices, so I can quickly setup rules and see the tree across all
  • Limit based on time. This is huge for parents as the more the platform can do this the less it is “Dad you aren’t letting me!” and more “I guess you used the two hours and it is letting you know”
  • When Facebook is launched, launch a study program instead ;)
  • Point systems that map to actual money, and within that allow for things like:
  • 33% goes into your account, 33% is in a longer term savings that you can’t just use right now, 33% is donated to folks in need

If you look at Clever you see what can be added to an auth platform when you think of students. There is even more that can be added for a family platform.
Parenting is the hardest job in the world. We often make the same old mistakes. We all need help. Technology isn’t the solution, but it sure as hell could help.

To start: don’t take the parents time and get them frustrated!

NOTE: Google seems to be doing more of a push on the family. At Google I/O there was a ton of content on kid friendly content and the like. This is great, but is also a first step. Having kid friendly apps and content is one thing, but why not bake it into the whole platform and existing apps.
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