YouTube Kids has finally arrived in the UK.
Google launched a dedicated version of its video website designed just for kids in February, and now, in November, it has expanded the app beyond the US. According to Google, the app has been downloaded over 10 million times since it debuted for Android and iOS, and that number will likely continue to grow as it goes live in the UK and elsewhere.
YouTube Kids: What is it?
Google's new app is called YouTube Kids. It's basically a separate version of the internet’s leading destination for video, but it's aimed squarely at children. YouTube Kids limits the world of content on the service to curated, family-friendly videos, channels, and educational clips.
The app’s interface features large images, colourful icons, and carefully-selected launch videos on the main homepage. There are four sections -Shows, Music, Learning and Explore -to explore within the app, as well as features like timer settings and a search function. The latter feature gives users access to YouTube’s main database of videos, but YouTube Kids’ results are filtered for safe content.
The service also provides adults with a range of parental controls, including the ability to disable search completely, limit screen time, and cap the volume. Another feature (added in October) allows parents to customise their passcode: "We’ve heard some parents prefer a personal passcode, rather than a spelled-out code, so we’ve added this option to access parental controls," Google explained.
Google has also disabled comments on the service. You can learn more about the app from here.
YouTube Kids: How does it work?
When parents open YouTube Kids, Google will explain upfront how its system chooses and recommends content. It'll also detail how to flag videos and prompt parents to set how broadly they want their child to explore within the app. Parents can, for instance, turn the search function on or off to restrict their child’s discovery experience.
You're also greeted with a colourful splash screen, complete with the initial sounds of children laughing and an extremely bubbly tune that's on repeat. You'll want to go ahead and turn down the volume at this point, or lock your child alone in a padded, sound-proof room with the phone.
It's up to you.
The main menu screen appears in landscape mode and shows four categories at the top (Shows, Music, Learning, and Explore), along with a search button in the top-right, which allows you to search by either text or voice input. The rest of the screen is filled with a horizontal list of videos. The videos on display depends on the category you've selected.
In the Shows category, we saw a Sesame Street channel, for instance, while Music has clips from the Kidz Bop channel. Learning features channels like PBS Kids and Ted Ed and even Khan Academy, and Explore served up content straight from the likes of Lego, and more. We really liked that each category had a lot of stuff on display, straightaway.
You can swipe through the list of highlighted videos, or just tap on the thumbnail to watch one in full screen. If you'd like to skip that and adjust settings, just tap the lock symbol in the bottom right-hand corner. Your child can't get access Settings unless he/she can read and enter a spelled out PIN that Google serves up (example: zero, four, four, five).
Once you enter the PIN, the main screen will reappear with new icons in the bottom right: Feedback, Settings, Timer. Tap Feedback to send Google your thoughts; tap Settings to manage background music (thank heavens), search, and more; and finally, tap Timer to set a time limit for how long your child can use the app before it locks down.
YouTube Kids: What makes YouTube Kids different?
The number one way that YouTube Kids app is different from the main YouTube app is that content has been narrowed down to content appropriate for kids. Google is already bragging about how it has big names on board, too, such as: DreamWorksTV, Jim Henson TV, Mother Goose Club, Talking Tom and Friends, etc.
You can browse channels and playlists in four categories or search for videos of particular interest by tapping the Search icon and then entering a query with your voice or text input. We tried voice, and it worked wonderfully, just like voice does with Google Now in fact, which is great for kids who haven't yet learned how to type out what they want.
We searched for things like "Barney" and found full episodes of the TV show Barney & Friends. We even searched adult-like things, such as President Obama's 2015 State of the Union Address, and found that, but when we searched for more lewd clips, including 50 Shades of Grey snippets, we found nothing and were told to search for something else.
In other words: YouTube Kids is packed with videos, just not the type you don't want kids to see.
One of the best parts about YouTube Kids is all the new parental controls. As we mentioned earlier, you must bypass a nifty lock screen to get into Settings, and once you do, you can save your sanity by adjusting sounds and music. You can even decide if you want your kids to be able to search. If not, they'll be limited to highlighted category videos.
The idea here is that your children will have a place to watch fun and interesting stuff, without driving you nuts or making you worried. Another cool parental control-type feature is the lack of comments, likes, popularity based on views, and subscriptions. It's literally just an app for videos; there's no social aspect.
That means you can watch Sesame Street without the view-count, but you can't subscribe to the Sesame Street channel. No worries though...because it'll always be on display in the Shows category. Your children also won't be privy to racist or inappropriate or homophobic rants in the comment section, because there is no comment section. Amazeballs.
The timer feature is really cool, too, mostly because it allows the app to be the bad guy. It'll notify your kids when it's time to stop watching videos, and you won't have to do a single thing (other than designate the time allowed).
The only thing we could nitpick about is the Settings lock screen page. As we mentioned, it's nifty and a cool way of stopping kids from getting into settings, but any child over the age of five will probably be able to get past it.
YouTube Kids wouldn't be a true Google app if it didn't include adverts, but like the rest of the app, they are tailored for children. While we were testing, for instance, we heard an advert for the Twenty Trucks channel. Thus, chances are, your child won't ever see a Carl's Jr advert with a scantily-clad Kim Kardashian bathing in a tub while nom-ing away.
YouTube Kids: Is it worth trying?
Totally. Plus, it's free. You're not risking anything by downloading it and allowing your child to play. It might have a limited set of content partners at launch, and it's missing cool discovery features, like trending topics, which are definitely something kids might like, but the app is completely streamlined and very easy to figure out.
We can't even imagine a toddler having trouble with the app, though that toddler might eventually get bored, because alas, there's just not that much video available right now. Still, even if YouTube Kids occupies your child's mind for 10 minutes, and ultimately teaches them something new or makes them laugh, isn't it worth it?
YouTube Kids: Where is it available?
Apart from the US, YouTube Kids is headed to the UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
The Guardian claimed that - in the UK and Ireland - YouTube Kids will "emphasise local channels, including famous children’s brands like Morph, Teletubbies, Wallace & Gromit, and The Magic Roundabout."
Want to know more?
Check out the YouTube Kids app's trailer below, and read Google's blog post for more details.
Oh, and Google announced in October that the YouTube Kids app would roll out with support for Chromecast, Apple TV, game consoles, etc. It'll also feature guest-curated playlists and original series from DreamWorksTV and more.