The Future of Wearables for Kids

Lindsay Boeckl takes a look at IoT for kids

Lindsay Boeckl

Children riding bikes with a pop-up text message from mom

The youth today: bright-eyed, full of wonder, and, connected. And it’s more than the usual horror story you hear about a toddler ignoring their parents over dinner because they are texting. There are three major markets where Internet of Things (IoT) devices for kids are not only booming but are beneficial to their well being:

  • Safety Wearables
  • Education
  • Sport

And within these markets there are three key factors to take into account for the demographic being serviced:

  • Durability
  • The ‘flipped’ classroom
  • COPA (Children’s Online Privacy Act)

Let’s break it down.

“Safety Wearables”

These aptly named “Safety Wearables” are available for all ages. Even at infancy (and even though the practicality of infant product has been questioned) IoT for children is becoming more and more common. And as kids become more mobile, parents can have their pick of many two-way communicating watches. Through these GPS enabled devices, parents will know where their kid is at all times. It also brings the peace of mind of their kid being able to call them (and not being able to call strangers).

A picture of the FiLIP2, a family mobility device

Not much has changed since I was a kid. Today, children still see a desire to destroy everything they touched, so safety wearables like the FiLIP 2 are designed to be durable, water resistant, as well as flexible to allow for a child’s growth.

Beyond just day-to-day GPS monitoring, wearable technology can remain dormant until emergencies arise. For example, Team Angry Kittens, which included Connected’s Lead Engineer, Alex Christodoulou (and some of his former co-workers), developed a mobile app called Security Blanket that helps parents track their missing child’s location. They took first place (and continued onto the World Battle Hack in San Jose, where they came in second) at the 2014 Toronto PayPal Battle Hack. In addition to using Beacon and Bluetooth technology to help find missing children, the app also allowed for PayPal donations to boost search efforts for the missing or to buy a sensor for those who can’t afford it.

And for those that can afford smart devices for their children, there are even more smart home products that are geared towards keeping the family safe, from cameras to locks. (Many of these devices still have a long way to go. At Connected, we specialize in building software for new hardware).

Education

“This year more than 750 million educational apps for mobile devices will be installed worldwide.”

Then, as kids keep getting older, they start heading off to school (after they’ve brushed their teeth with their favorite app of course) and enter classrooms that are experiencing a change in landscape. Jeff Graham has been an Associate Professor of the Teaching Steam at University of Toronto Mississauga for 23 years. Prior to that he received his PhD in Cognitive Psychology at the University of Waterloo, where he wrote his thesis on children’s acquisition of simple arithmetic facts. He’s even created e-learning software that measures both accuracy and speed for higher education, and is now moving into the K-12 market as well.

Graham is interested in software that can adapt itself to the learner. What are the students strengths and weaknesses? How can the curriculum be tailored to customize adaptive tasks? How can a student’s time be used most efficiently?

When I spoke with Graham over the phone, he mentioned I should watch out for the phrase Hybrid (or Flipped) Classroom while I wrote this blog post. “There’s a need for face-to-face teaching that I don’t think we’re ever going to replace,” he said. “But there’s a huge need to be able to handle the following problem: that a teacher has 20–50 different kids in a classroom, where we’re targeting the sort of average student but we’re boring the best students and we’re still losing the worst students.”

The solution to this is to customize material to the student, Graham suggests. “The best students, you let them go on and you give them other [electronic] exercises and engaging tasks that improve their skills beyond what’s really needed for the course and keep them engaged,” Graham says. This form of hybrid teaching (or ‘blended learning’) would allow for struggling students to get extra assistance as well.

In addition to levelling the playing field, there are some blended learning experiences that are just really cool. The affordability of Google Cardboard paired with efforts from Google’s Expeditions program makes it easy for kids to go on “virtual field trips.” Kids these days can even see Pluto.

And then there’s our favorite buzzword, gamification. The Ocatlysis Theory, a framework developed by gamification pioneer Yu-kai Chou, identifies eight core drives of gamification that are becoming standards:

  • Epic Meaning & Calling
  • Development and Accomplishment
  • Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback
  • Ownership and Possession
  • Social Influence and Relatedness
  • Scarcity and Impatience
  • Unpredictability and Curiosity

A lot of educational software acknowledges when a user has reached a progress checkpoint. Whether it’s by rewarding users with a badge, providing unique avatars, or sharing scores across a leaderboard, these elements of games are present in many education apps on the market.

While it wasn’t necessarily an e-learning platform, I can call out several of these drives in a game called Tiny Towers. Similar to Farmville, you have to wait for the tenants in the tower you’ve created to finish work, collect their pay and keep building your tower. It got to a point where my friend started moving the time on his iPod forward to get money more quickly and keep building his tower. Needless to say when the rest of us figured out what he was doing to beat us so viciously, we were pretty pissed. (The addictiveness of these games is a whole other tangent, but if it’s something that interests you definitely check out Sam Anderson’s piece in the New York Times‘Just One More Game… Angry Birds, Farmville and other Hyperaddictive ‘Stupid Games’’’).

All cheating aside, Graham says a lot of the learning happens in that environment, as well as within the ‘Empowerment Creativity and Feedback’ drive. He says, “You shouldn’t go around that corner because you made that mistake before.”

Graham ended our call on this note: “What I’m curious to know, or interested in trying to solve, is the following problem: how do you create a learning environment that’s as engaging as multi-person shoot ‘em ups?”

Sport

70% of teenagers age 13–17 have smartphones, according to a 2013 report by the market-research firm Nielsen.

Some of our early exploratory work with Snypr highlighted two pain points inherent in connected products for children.

Snypr CEO Doug Appleton wanted to change the way youth lacrosse players practice.

In the world of competitive lacrosse, being told to go home hit the wall is an everyday occurrence. This form of practice, or ‘wall ball,’ is exactly what it sounds like. A player stands extremely close to a wall, throws the ball as hard as they can from their stick, catches and repeats.

It’s a very solitary activity. It’s also very difficult to measure. I remember Appleton on one of our early calls explaining how parents were standing behind their kids counting how many repetitions of wall ball they’d done. We started working with Snypr when there was a control group of about 10 kids. Our Lead Designer and VP Product went down to interview these youth players to begin plotting out the software solution for an app that collects data from sensors in a lacrosse stick.

One of the core principles in our ‘Connected Method’ is to use your users. Based on the high fidelity prototypes we tested with the control group, we learned simple facts like how kids are only using micro-engagement apps like Snapchat and Instagram, but rarely used Facebook. We took all of our learning into account while designing the UI/UX of the app.

The app needed to present the data the sensor collected (such as number of repetitions, strong vs. weak arm, etc) in an interesting way, but it also needed to be engaging and competitive. If the app just presented the data from the sensor and had no call to action, it would end up never being used. We started with implementing a leaderboard and challenges wherein a coach could issue a challenge or players could challenge each other. Additionally we used certain elements of gamification such as badges and social influence to motivate users.

As Snypr moved their development in house, and began testing the app with a camp of over 300 kids, they gained even more insights. For instance, the players only really wanted to compete against their friends. The engaging factor or the call to action was seeing where you ranked against your friends, as opposed to a global leaderboard where no other players were familiar with each other. Having an agile approach to developing any product ensures that user engagement is proven every step of the way.

Snypr also worked through the COPA Laws. Children under 13 years of age require verifiable parental consent to do a great many things online, including registering an app.

“That is a challenge, no question about it,” Appleton said. “But that’s also the key to the youth market. [There are] 30 million kids in that age bracket and that’s a very untapped market, and a lot of it is because of [the COPA laws].”

So how do you onboard youth in a simple and seamless way but still remain within the law? Snypr solved this issue by directing users to a parental consent form as soon as they download the app and before they can officially register. Once Snypr receives the form, they also authenticate users.

“The laws are designed to be hard to get around on purpose,” Appleton said.

If you make an IoT product that has a target market under the age of 13, make sure you weave these laws into your onboarding flow early in product development. Also, pay extra attention to security. It’s important to build and test onboarding flows as the product scales.

How now?

In addition to seeing more and more IoT devices for kids popping up in safety, education, and sport, kids will be more hands on with wearable devices than ever before (smartphone ownership ages 4–14 is increasing). There are camps and workshops for kids to code, learn Arduino and much more. As youth gain more insight into the vertical they’ll make more informed decisions on what kind of IoT devices they want. If you are working on a children’s IoT device, make sure yours is durable, engaging and within the realm of COPA laws. Need help? Let’s chat.

Connected works with the world’s most ambitious companies to deliver the best connected experiences across multiple platforms, including mobile, web, smart TVs and VR/AR. Our clients come to us for our transformative approach to software development, rooted in Extreme Programming and Design Thinking, what we call the ‘Connected Method’.

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