The mobile app revolution 

They’re just tiny pieces of software on your phone but they might have already changed the way you – and your kids – do certain things. Digital Parenting delves into the ever-evolving world of the app.

We’re living in an incredibly exciting time. Mobile phones are no longer just used to make phone calls and send text messages; they’re becoming networked computers with endless possibilities. These smartphones have already replaced books, maps, cameras, diaries and MP3 players in our pockets and bags. They will soon replace purses, wallets and even keys.

More than a billion smartphones are used every day around the world and that number is growing. Mobile and device manufacturers are developing new features, handsets are getting cheaper (‘Pay as you go’ smartphones can be bought for around £40), mobile operators are building faster networks, and more open, advanced mobile platforms have driven the proliferation of mobile applications or ‘apps’.

What are mobile apps and how can I get hold of them?  

Apps have been around for a while but, as smartphones become more prevalent and apps easier to find, they are playing an increasingly important role in our lives.

Mobile apps are small programmes that sit on a smartphone, giving you quick access to information, entertainment and much more, usually via the internet. There are currently over 900,000 apps for the iPhone and iPad alone, many of which fulfil every day tasks such as shopping, business, banking, diary planning and social networking.

You can get apps via a ‘shop’ on your smartphone. For example, if you go to Apple’s App Store, BlackBerry World or Google Play, you can download and install apps that are either free or paid-for (costing anything from 29p to £10). Payment is usually made via a credit card registered to the app store account or charged to your monthly phone bill or ‘Pay as you go’ credit. Some apps that are free to download may charge for additional features (such as accessing premium levels within a game or buying virtual goods) via ‘in-app purchases’.

Safety in numbers? 

Today, there are around five billion devices connected to the internet and it’s estimated that this figure will rise to 15 billion by 2015 – that’s more than two devices for every person on earth. With sales of smartphones and tablets, such as the iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab, overtaking personal computers for the first time in 2011, it’s clear that mobile devices will play an important role in this predicted growth.

Indeed, smartphones, tablets and mobile apps are becoming our main route to the internet and, given that the average user stores more than 2GB of personal data on their phone – emails, photos, videos, music and much more – the safety of that data is a pressing question for us all.

Mobile users can take straightforward steps to protect their devices against viruses, theft or loss. Passwords and PIN numbers should be used at all times, apps are available to back up valuable photos, music or address books and ‘find, lock and wipe’ services can – either temporarily or permanently – protect a lost smartphone.

Whilst mobile apps are certainly transforming the way we lead our lives, their benefits won’t be fully realised unless people are confident that they can control and protect the personal information held on the device.

Young people and apps 

With almost half of 12 to 15-year-olds in the UK now owning a smartphone, parents might have additional concerns when it comes to their kids using mobile apps.

Keeping track of the apps your child is downloading can be a challenge. Whilst there are many educational apps available – from those that help toddlers to spell to ones that teach budding teen astronomers about the stars – not all apps are appropriate for young people.

Furthermore, your child might have to pay for certain apps or in-app features. In-app purchases hit the headlines in 2011 when a number of children ran up large bills buying stuff as part of game apps like Smurfs’ Village and Tap Zoo. Even if an app contains a warning about additional costs for in-app purchases, young children in particular might not understand that they are required to spend real money.

No doubt, you want your kids to enjoy the benefits of the mobile internet but, at the same time, would rather they didn’t look at unsuitable material, run up large bills, or share too much information with strangers or people outside their friend group.

So what precautions should you be taking? As with any approach to safety and security, prevention is best, but with so many apps and app stores, where do parents start? We’ve put together a few tips to help you.

What is an in-app purchase? 

Some apps offer you the chance to buy subscriptions and extra content once you’re in the app – these are called in-app purchases.

Bonus game levels, maps, upgrades, tokens, subscriptions and clothes or equipment for characters in a game are examples of things you might be asked to pay for once you are using an app (even if the app was free to download in the first place).

When you make an in-app purchase, you’ll see the name and cost of the item on your screen. In-app purchases are charged directly to the credit card that has been assigned to the app store in question, charged to your monthly phone bill or ‘Pay as you go’ credit, or deducted from the app store allowance or gift card.

Some children and teenagers might not understand that in-app purchases cost real money and there have been times when kids have unwittingly run up large bills buying them.

Facebook apps 

Apps on Facebook include games, such as Words With Friends, and features like Events and Photos. Some apps are created by Facebook; others by outside developers. With the Apps and Games dashboard, it's easy to find and add apps to your Facebook profile (timeline) that let you share what you're reading, listen to music with friends, play games and more.

Facebook users can control who can see their activity from that app. After you install an app, go to App Settings in the account drop-down menu at the top right corner of Facebook and click Account Settings. Then, select Apps from the menu in the left hand column and manage your privacy settings for individual apps you’ve added.

Facebook recommends that users read the app’s privacy policy so they know what information will be collected (such as name, profile picture and email address) and how it will be used. Users are encouraged to use the ‘report’ button to advise Facebook about any apps they think are not using information appropriately.

For more information, go to the Facebook Help Centre and the Facebook Safety Centre

Useful Vodafone apps 

Vodafone Cloud Back up and store photos, videos and other files.

Vodafone Guardian Set boundaries for your child’s Android mobile use, such as when they can go online and who they can text.

Apps for kids 

Common Sense Media has combed through thousands of apps and games for young people and picked some of the best. You can view the full list here, and a few of our favourites below:

5 to 8-year-olds:

Kids ABC Phonics


Fruit Ninja

9 to 11-year-olds:


123D Sculpt

Rock Band

12 to 14-year-olds:

JellyCar 2

Bear Grylls – Bear Essentials


15 to 17-year-olds:

All-in-1 Gamebox

The Sims 3