App 101 (Apple devices)
*These opinions are just that, opinion, and technology does change, so information may become dated*.
Some questions I wish someone had asked me when first starting out:
Do you know what an app is?
"App" is short for application. There are many kinds of apps. There are apps for computers. There are apps for tablets. There are apps for specific computers or tablets. Make sure you are purchasing an app that will work on the device you have. If you purchase an iPad app, it will only run on your iPad- not your Kindle, not your laptop etc. Sometimes an app is "Universal". In the App Store this just means it will run on both an iPhone/iPod Touch and an iPad, without the need to purchase versions for each one. A "Universal" iOS app can't be used on your laptop, or non-Apple tablet/phone.
Do you have a device yet?
If not, you may want to scroll down to the bottom of this page and read Apple Vs. Android? first.
Do you have a case for your Device?
Get one. Immediately.
If you have an Apple device, you are in luck, there are many options! You can check here for inspiration http://www.pinterest.com/specialappssk/ios-cases-accessories/ or check out my favorite iPad and iPad mini cases reviewed here: http://specialappsspecialkids.blogspot.com/2013/04/handy-ios-cases-for-kids-with-or-wo.html.
For Apple devices (iPad, iPad Mini, iPhone, iPod touch)
Do you have iTunes?
First off you should have iTunes installed so you can purchase apps in the App Store and store the files for them on your computer. (You will also be able to access them on your device through iCloud but won't go in to that). The beauty of iTunes is that you can start purchasing apps here before you even have a device, which is handy when apps go free- you can easily install them on your device at a later time. You can find iTunes by doing a Google Search and following the installation instructions from Apple to put the software on your computer.
Do you have a code you need to redeem?
You might be given a "code" for an app by a developer, an app site like Special Apps, Special Kids, or perhaps from your local Starbucks. An app code is a series of letters and numbers jumbled together i.e. "EYLWPN74E9W", that you can enter to download an app for free. iTunes gift cards work the same way. (Yes this is a real code, but I removed the last digit as I haven't redeemed it yet-Thank you Starbucks!)
To redeem such a code:
If on the computer: open your iTunes, look for the black "house" symbol along the top of the screen where there is a bar of tabs. Once you have tapped the black house, look to the far right hand side top of the screen for a menu bar . You should see the word "redeem". Click on that and enter the code in the box that appears.
If on your device: (I will use my iPad, which has the latest software version installed, so it may be different depending on what iOS software is installed) Open the App Store by tapping on the App Store icon on your device's screen. (If you cannot find it, look for the search feature. Currently you can access Search by using a pulling motion with one finger at the top of your screen- this will reveal a search window where you can type in "App Store". If you cannot locate it this way, go in to your "Settings" button- you may have access to the App Store turned off. )
Anyhow, once in the App Store, tap the "Featured" tab with the little star symbol, displayed along the bottom left hand side of the iPad's screen. Then swipe upward on the screen so it will scroll down to the bottom of the App Store Page. Here you will see a "Redeem" button at the bottom middle of the screen. Click on that and enter the code in the box that appears. If you have a fancy schmancy new code that can be read by your device's camera [there should be a black box surrounding the code in this case), you can choose that option and follow the instructions.
*FYI to the left of the redeem box, it should show your Apple ID- make sure you are signed in to your Apple ID or you may purchase an app for another family member who was using your tablet! If you are having issues still at this point, go in to Settings and make sure you are 1) signed in with your Apple ID 2) You have set up/ are signed in to your iCloud.*
Apple vs. Android?
This really depends on your needs.
Apple wins in terms of sheer numbers.
If you are the parent of a special needs child with significant needs or you are an educator, Apple will likely be your best bet. The number of apps developed specifically for autism or language impairment is significantly higher and if you are looking for therapeutic apps in a wide range of areas (AAC/Communication, Speech and Language, Occupational Therapy and so on) you will likely find what you need in the Apple App Store.
However, there are plenty of quality, educational and fun apps for kids for Android, with more added each day. If you are primarily looking to keep the kids busy with fun learning games, don't rule Android out.
Also if you need a tablet for a specific reason, such as using a tablet as a dedicated speech generating device- Android does offer AAC options worth a serious look; Android has some lower priced contenders for tablets also, although you will need to do some research to make sure your device can handle the AAC program you have chosen. Some users of certain Android tablets have reported serious lag times between pushing a button, and that button generating speech.
If you are considering an android tablet, it is essential that you understand all android tablets are NOT equal. Many low-end Android tablets have access to only their own "App store", and have no access to the (already smaller) number of educational apps for children in the Google Play store- the gold standard for Android.
If you just want a tablet for the kids to read stories on, and perhaps play some of the more popular game apps for kids, Kindle is an option too.
My personal favorite for Android is the Samsung Note 8 inch tablet. This is more expensive than some of its counterparts but may be a good choice as an organizational tool- it has built in handwriting recognition software, which makes note taking a breeze. Samsung Note has full access to the Google Play Store, the Samsung Store, and the Amazon App Store. I can also read book apps on my Kindle Store app.
For a list of some of Special Apps, Special Kids' favorite Android Apps for kids, see here.
Two app sites that curate lists of educational apps for both Apple and Android platforms are appolearning.com and yappguru.com