It has been a while since I've reviewed a kids app but the new YouTube kids app is something so ground-breaking that I had to share it with you. As the Mellow Mummy, I've always been relaxed about letting my two girls use the internet but I'm also increasingly aware of how easy it is for Lara to quickly drift into parts of the internet that I'd really rather she wasn't exploring. In recent months, Lara has started to enjoy using YouTube and it had made my software developer brain start to tick...
...As a software geek, I'd started to think about all of the features of YouTube that could be subtly changed to help make it a bit more kid-friendly. Then this month, lo and behold, YouTube released their own app in the iTunes app store and Google Play which does everything I was thinking of!
The YouTube Kids app has obviously had a lot of thought put into it. It is incredibly easy to use and so intuitive that you don't need written menus or instructions to read. The app largely surfaces YouTube channels of known kid-friendly sources such as kids TV channels, children's brands and cartoons. All of the content that is surfaced in the app is categorised as suitable for children but presumably, this is based on algorithms and automated processes so you do still have to be aware that there is a remote chance your child could stumble upon something unwanted. However, its far, far less likely. Having watched the way my 6 year old uses YouTube, I see her watch one video and then move onto the next recommendation... on the grown-up app, or online, this can result in her quickly drifting off-topic and so I like the fact that the YouTube Kids app offers us some protection that her drifting can still be within kid-friendly realms.
The app has various parental settings you can control such as restricting the ability to search (if you switch it off, your child can only watch recommended content and can't use the text search capability). You can also restrict the amount of time that your child spends on the app. When Lara was ill during half-term I genuinely saw her spend 2 hours on YouTube watching pop videos (mostly of dancing pumpkins). If she hadn't been unwell, this wouldn't have been OK in my books. The new YouTube kids app allows you to set a timebox that your child can use the app for - this helps set expectations between you and your child for how much they can watch. I like to apply my own limits, but I can see how this might help others.
The search capability in the app is excellent. Lara has used it to search for videos of tudor houses as part of a school project - the font and icons throughout the app are all big and round which means Lara can easily read and access everything she needs. There are also menu options which take you straight to music videos or education videos. If you explore, you can still find your fair share of cat videos too!
From within the app you can easily cast to a bigger screen using Chromecast, Apple TV or to your smart TV. We tend to find the big screen makes the viewing experience even more fun - we all watched SuperTed together the other day!
The user experience of the YouTube kids app is probably the most noticeable high point of the app because it is just so instantly accessible to children. However, to me the biggest plus point is that, unlike the online YouTube experience, this app isn't tied to a Google account and doesn't feature any of the things like likes or shares which come with your traditional logged-in account on YouTube. It is just a simple, exploratory viewing experience suitable for little people.
I love this app. It does everything I was hoping for and it now means I can happily leave Lara to explore the exciting world of videos without having to lose my mellowness!