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There’s an App for That! But Is It Right for You?

assistive technology tips - appsMy teenage daughter and I recently had the privilege of presenting at the Family Cafe’s Annual Conference in Florida. My daughter (who has dyslexia) gave a presentation on “Dyslexia: The Challenges, the Achievements, the Possibilities” and my presentation was called, “There’s An App for That.” In preparation for both presentations, we did extensive research on available apps and quickly learned that just because “there’s an app for that” it doesn't mean that it’s right for everyone. I can’t recount the number of apps we initially downloaded with great anticipation, only to realize that we would probably never use them again. We learned that an estimated 26% of all downloaded apps are only used once. In the end, we came up with the following strategies for evaluating an app before deciding to buy it:

  • Visit the iTunes store on the online app page and:
    • Read the reviews posted by other uses regarding the app.
    • Review the screen shots to see if the app appears to suit your needs.
    • Follow the link to the developer’s website and search the site for demos of the app.
  • Search the app’s name on YouTube and view tutorials and reviews posted by others who have used the app.
  • Categorize the app by type (such as organization, writing, or spelling), then search the Internet for the “Best [type] apps” and review the lists and reviews that have been created and generated by others.
  • Analyze what you want to use the app for and then see if it meets your criteria and is suitable for your user’s age group.
  • Download and “test drive” a “lite” or free version of the app (if available) before purchasing the full version.

My daughter and I find that using these strategies boosts our odds of selecting and downloading apps that we’ll use on a regular basis.

Before purchasing an app, we suggest you also consider the following:

  • Are additional in-app purchases required to make the app useful?
  • Do (annoying) advertising messages pop up within the app while it’s in use?
  • What privacy policies are connected to the app? When you download the app, what information are you agreeing to share with the developer?
  • Make sure you know if the app is universal or if it was created for a specific Apple product. Sometimes it makes sense to use an HD version of an app only for the iPad. At other times, it’s more convenient to have an app that works across all Apple devices. For example, there are many scanning apps for the iPhone that won’t work properly if loaded onto a device that doesn’t have a camera, or whose camera has a lower resolution.

Once you load an app on your device(s), watch for future updates to it. Beware: not all updates are beneficial—or even desirable! For example, we noticed that the update for one of our favorite dictionary apps littered it with so much advertising and extraneous information that it was too “busy” to be useful for us. Here’s what we recommend:

  • Instead of upgrading all of your apps at once, try to evaluate each update individually. Review the changes the update has made to the app or its privacy policy.
  • Once you update the app, reevaluate it to make sure the changes made don’t make the app unsuitable. The importance of reevaluating apps after each upgrade really hit home for us when we realized that an app that originally produced delightfully silly sound effects at the push of an icon had been updated with sound effects that wouldn’t be appropriate for a child to hear.

Have you discovered additional ways to review and evaluate apps and their subsequent updates? If so, please share your insights in the comments section below. I look forward to reading your comments!

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