Playing 'appy families: How Peppa Pig and Bob the Builder are changing the digital landscape

With the summer holidays now in full swing youngsters are spending more time and cash on smartphone and tablet apps than ever before.

But the surge in popularity of this mobile software for kids has left parents struggling to wrestle their own iPhones, iPads and Android devices away from their children.

Last week, the £2.99 Peppa Pig Sports Day soared to No1 in the overall UK iTunes Store to become the best-selling iPad app after just seven days on sale. It was also top of both the kids and family games iPhone charts.

Dad-of-two Stuart Dredge created back in 2010 to review the best apps for kids and since then has seen a marked increase in the quality on offer.

He said: "Big children's brands and independent developers alike were quick to realise there's a market for high-quality children's apps. You're seeing famous characters like Peppa Pig and Bob the Builder appear but also lots of innovative new digital storybooks, games and educational apps from indie developers.

"By learning how to use touchscreen devices as young as two or three years old, children are getting in early on the computing technologies that will serve them well 10 or 20 years down the line.

"Far from being nervous about handing their £300 tablet over to a sticky-fingered child, many parents are relishing the chance to introduce their kids to apps. This isn't just about handing over the device to keep a child quiet, either. In fact, the most rewarding children's apps are those that can be used together with a parent."

Recent research from Disney UK revealed more than a third of British parents now see apps as integral to family life, with two in five spending up to £10 each month.

Half admitted downloading an app at the request of their child with three in 10 doing so as a treat, while a fifth used it to reward good behaviour.

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Holly Seddon is editor-in-chief of soon-to-launch It is a new startup aimed at helping parents keep up with the opportunities and challenges of raising kids in a connected world.

She said: "Children learn through touch from a very young age so it's a no-brainer that they're naturals with tablet computers and smartphones; swiping, flicking, pinching and colouring in with their fingers.

"In my own home, apps have helped my toddler learn to read and write far faster than his siblings did, and e-books have given him a ferocious appetite for stories and books that include the good old-fashioned paper variety.

"The key is e-books on the iPad don't replace story time with us, they are story time with us. E-books have helped him enjoy a far richer experience, with incredibly sophisticated themes that are made understandable through child-focused animation and design.

"But we’ve also enjoyed the tablet-version of the Ladybird Classics that my husband and I loved as children, brought back to life in a way that tickles all of us."

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She added: "With new technology arriving all the time, soon it won't just be clothes that are handed down to younger siblings. It will be tablets and child-size tech too.

"But it is important for parents to bone up on the common sense advice for safe internet use, and especially to talk to children about safe behaviours around personal information and in-game purchases. The good far outweighs the bad if you take sensible precautions."

Some of those precautions include enabling restrictions to prevent purchases due to their age content ratings or to stop in-app purchases.

In the past, some parents have unwittingly been landed with a massive bill after not realising their children were buying items while playing app games, connected to their credit cards or bank account. Other parental controls can be set up in Apple's iTunes.

James Huggins is managing director of app developer Made in Me. He believes the genre can only get more exciting and engaging.

He said: "We started Made in Me with the sole aim of creating magical interactive experiences for young children that allow them to be playful and creative. We're only three years old but there was no iPad at that time. You forget just how quickly the world of apps has exploded into our lives.

"Tablets and other touch screen devices are exciting for lots of reasons but when it comes to young children they have opened up completely new opportunities for interaction and play that have real value. When I look at a tablet, I see a toy. A perfect digital toy.

"In the hands of children for me they really look at home and there's no denying the benefits these new devices and apps bring to the table. Children have access to a wealth of information, imagery, books and games in a format that is intuitive and accessible for them. It's no surprise that the tablet is slowly usurping the laptop and desktop computer as the device of choice in education.

"The huge potential value of apps is only going to increase as both developers and families become more accustomed to just how imaginative they can be with this new technology."