If you’re a parent and an iPhone owner you probably hear the same plea from little voices on the hour that I do:
“Dad can I play with your iPhone?
The iPod Touch was created with this audience in mind: wee folks who don’t need a cell phone, but would love an iOS device of their own to play Minecraft Mobile and FaceTime Grammy.
The problem: the iPod Touch starts at $199 and can’t easily be bought by the pennies your 5 year old found in the couch.
The solution: your old iPhone that you’re about to trade in for the new model.
With a few steps you can turn that iPhone into a iPod touch that will give you relief in countless situations from the Great Mac and Cheese Delay At CPK to the “How much longer to Grammy’s?” Onslaught of 2012, 2013, and 2014.
But listen, this is not just a simple article telling you how to turn an iPhone into a iPod Touch, this is an EPIC how-to on turning the iPhone into the ULTIMATE iPod Touch with features and apps to delight both you and your progeny, plus security so everyone is safe.
In this tutorial you’ll learn how to:
- Evaluate the best choice: hand down your iPhone or trade it in?
- Erase the contents from your old iPhone and restore it so it’ll be set up as a like-new iPod Touch.
- Set restrictions so the kids will be safe and your wallet untouched from in-app purchases.
- Create lock screen wallpapers and iCloud accounts to ensure that “set it and forget-it” backups are happening and if it’s lost it can be easily returned.
- Set up FaceTime so Grammy can read AND show the pictures for Skippy Jon Jones thousands of miles away.
- Set up iMessage to be able to check in with Dad while he’s out at the conference in Phoenix.
- Organize apps for maximum fun and minimum confusion.
- Discover great sources for quality apps for kids that go beyond movie-tie-ins and in-app vending machines.
- Find the right case for protection against the awesome power of a hyper seven year old.
It’s going to be awesome: your kid will be thrilled, you’ll be relieved, I’ll walk you through it all.
Note: This guide is all about saving money in repurposing something that’s aged into a glorious entertainment/educational machine so in most cases you won’t need to buy or sell anything at all. There are some services and products that you might use to go the extra mile and in those cases I’m using my own affiliate links (meaning I earn a small commission if you use my link.) My links are the same price as on the sites, so if you do use them, thank you!
Ready? Let’s go!
Step 1: Should it stay or should it go?
There’s a slight chance depending on the age of your phone and its condition that Gazelle will give you more money for your phone than it would cost to get a brand new iPod Touch.
In that rare case the choice is clear, trade in the phone and pick up the iPod after you receive your payment back from Gazelle.
But again that’s rare.
My wife’s iPhone 4s looked like this at the end of its days:
Hop over to Gazelle and click through their easy options (Verizon, 16GB, Broken/Cracked) and see this:
Pretty easy decision for us.
Might be more nuanced for you.
Some resources to help you with this decision:
And if you do decide to buy an iPod Touch rather than repurpose the old: buy it new from a trusted retailer. However, one possible savings option is Apple’s refurbished store which offers great quality and warrantees for a discounted price.
Step 2: Erasing, clearing and restoring…for the kids!
Alright, the kids are excited…they understand now that there’s something in it for them that momma is upgrading BUT momma, before we move into the next step make sure everything on your new phone is good to go.
New phone is: activated (phone and data service working), backed up (to iCloud), showing data like contacts and photos and everything looks peachy.
Good to go? Great! Now we’re going to bring the old iPhone back to when it was just a baby iPhone on a boat from China. Clean slate to start anew.
The best way to do this is to go old school style and plug the old iPhone into your Mac and through iTunes restore your device to factory settings. Just follow each step in this Apple support article.
- In the “Before you restore” section they’ll have you making a backup to your computer. You probably won’t need it, because you already checked that your new phone is working above and that it’s backing up to iCloud, BUT go ahead and do it any way. Just a bit of added security for the first few days of this transition.
- When you backup you may get a message that looks like this:
- Most folks by this point no longer backup their apps to iTunes on their computers because apps are always available to re-download from the “purchased” section in the App Store. So you can in most cases, choose “Don’t Back Up Apps”, the only exception being a more geeky edge case in which you know you have an app that is no longer available on the store and it’s one that your kid has to have and didn’t make the transition to your new iPhone. That’s pretty rare, but if it applies go ahead and back up.
- As you follow the instructions in the Apple support article above, you’ll see the Apple logo and the updating bars on the phone and then at the end on iTunes you’ll see 2 options: restore from backup or setup as a new iPhone. You want the latter, because remember: clean slate!
Step 3: Hello…Hola…Salut: Setting up
So one of the first steps I like to take in iTunes is to rename the iPhone so that: 1) there’s no confusion whose “iPod” this is later and 2)add some additional information in case it’s lost.
It’s easy just double-click on the name of the iPhone in the top left, it’ll turn blue, and then type the name of your kid(or kids, my boys share this device.) and “If lost please call: Your-phone-number.” It’ll look like this:
Okay now, return to the phone: you’ll see the familiar Apple “Hello, Hola, etc” screen:
- Slide to start.
- Choose your Wi-fi network and connect.
- Enable location services
- The next screen is Apple ID, let’s stop a moment and talk about this:
Yes, if you’ve come this far it’s time for your little person to have their own Apple ID.
We want them to have an Apple ID not because we want them to use it to BUY stuff on iTunes or the App Store (we’ll set that to your account) BUT so that they can BACKUP the device’s data to iCloud with their own free 5GB.
Luckily, with iOS 8 arrived the feature to make accounts for folks 13 and under, but as you would hope it will be connected to your account. (The “adult” as you sometimes like to think of yourself.)
The set up screens will walk you through this, but there’s also this article in case you want to do it after the set-up. (But why put off till tomorrow what you can, Ben Franklin saying, Ben Franklin saying…)
I would take this opportunity to create an iCloud email account for them as well to use as their Apple ID login. It’s free and you should be the sole owner of the password unless they’re older and deemed responsible.
- Create a passcode: My boys are so used to Mom and Dad’s phones having a passcode they demanded to have one on their own. Proud parenting moment. I think it’s a good idea – agree on one together and add it here.
- Use Siri/Don’t Use Siri: Your call. My boys haven’t discovered this, but I can see teaching them dictation at one point. (Oh boy, that might backfire on me in a big way when I start seeing texts calling me “Poopy Poopy Daddy.”)
- Diagnostics and App Feedback: Again, totally up to you. I check these because as a former Apple Store employee I still believe (or drink the Kool Aid, depending on your own bias) that it’s totally anonymous and helps make better phones and apps. But your call, it won’t affect performance either way.
- Start using your new iPhone: I think they mean “iPod” but let’s do this, tap that and let’s go to…
Step 4: Internal Security, makin’ it safe for the kids and their parent’s wallets.
This is no longer a phone, but we have to be the one to break it to the device, otherwise it’ll show up to public events acting all like an iPhone even though it’s clear it’s had the iPod Touch procedure. Do that by going to Settings>Cellular>Cellular Data and turning it off.
Next, go to Settings>Auto-Lock and set it something longer than 1 minute or you’ll have to continually enter your passcode.
Next, go back to Settings>General>Restrictions Update: and type in a new passcode one that is different from the passcode you created when setting up the device. It’s important for only you (and other adults in the family) to know the Restrictions passcode and that it be unique because otherwise savvy or older kids could just disable these restrictions. After you’ve created a unique code, tap “Enable Restrictions.”
You have a slew of different options here that I’ll mostly leave up to you to decide as the family tech leader. The ones I strongly recommend are:
* Turning off “In-App Purchases.”
* Setting “Require Password” to “Immediately” so there’s no purchases that are not parent sanctified.
My boys don’t use Safari on their iPods yet (even if they occasionally will use the Mac version for sites like PBS Kids), so I can turn it off all together. I also found this article from Be Web Smart helpful in exploring the option of leaving Safari on but limiting the sites it will reach.
I find the iOS restrictions enough for my family at this time but if you’re looking for even more control, I’d take a look at Bradley Chamber’s recommendation of Curbi. Bradley is a geek, a father, the Apple IT guy for an elementary school, and co-host of a podcast about using Apple tech in education so I trust his recommendation. Curbi allows you not only to set more restrictions, but also to manage the time spent on devices as well as observe (let’s face it, spy) on how they’re being used. Update: Bradley has recorded a screencast that gives you a tour of how Curbi works.
Next, go to Settings>iCloud and make sure it’s set to your child’s account. The two essential features to have turned on here in my opinion are: Backup and Find My iPhone. The others are up to you to make a decision as a family. Personally, I turned on Documents and Data to back up their games’ progress and Mail and Contacts for later when preserving their few contacts for FaceTiming with Grammy and Pop-Pop.
Second, I would go to Settings>iTunes & App Store and make sure the Apple ID is set to your Apple ID or whoever in the family has the purchasing account.
Note: with iOS 8 this is the old school way of doing this, because there is now Family Sharing. As of November 2014, I still find that this old school method the more direct and easy way to go, but if you want to read more about family sharing this collection of articles from iMore is helpful.
So how it works in our family: two parents, two boys aged 7 and 5. If one of the boys finds an app they’d like to download they bring the phone to us and we evaluate it and if we agree, parents enter the password for dad’s Apple ID. In our house, only mom and dad know the purchasing Apple ID password. (Although my 7 year old is working on it…)
Finally I recommend customizing a lock screen image that lets anybody who finds it know: A) this is a kid’s iPod be a good person and return it. B) my phone number so they can return it.
It looks like this:
I detail the process in another post of mine here. (Hint: it’s also a practice I use for my own phone and advocate for parents too.)
Double check that Find my iPhone is turned on and you know their Apple ID and password, and let’s move forward!
Step 5:FaceTime with Grammy means StoryTime With Grammy
When I interviewed to work at The Apple Store one of the things I talked about how the simplicity of FaceTime made my boys talking and SEEING my mother-in-law a sweet and very regular occurrence. It works so well in my family that I’m convinced the company could film it and make into a commercial. Ah, but that’s every father’s dream isn’t it – to exploit the sweetest moments of their family for financial gain?
Ahem. I digress.
It’s easy to setup. Go to Settings>FaceTime and turn it on. Then tap “Use your Apple ID forFaceTime” The next screen will have the kid’s Apple ID (not yours) and enter their password. Then the next screen should have “Your Phone Number” greyed out and a check mark next to your kid’s iCloud address (or the email address you used for their Apple ID.) It looks like this:
Then click next and it should be ready to go.
You can then go to Contacts and add a few of the contacts’ phone numbers or email addresses or both that they would call on FaceTime. Ours has: Grammy, Pop-Pop, Mom and Dad, and two Aunties. And I listed them under those exact name in contacts. Easy. That way he can just type Grammy into the FaceTime App and boom! instant connection.
Messages has a similar setup and will use the same set of contacts. My seven year old has experimented with this to send me texts that say “Hi” or “Hi Dad” but it’s mostly ignored by him.
If you don’t want any access here just go to Settings>Messages and turn off iMessages. Similarly, FaceTime can be turned off in Settings>General>Restrictions.
It can be quite rewarding and give you the warmest kind of Jetsons feeling to hear and see your mother-in-law lovingly reading each word of Skippy Jon Jones to your two boys even if your wife sometimes wishes she would read it a bit faster.
Let’s take a short Jetsons’ video-phone break before moving into the next section:
Step 6: Organizing the New Playroom
(This may be the furthest I’ve gone in a blog post without writing the words: “organizing”)
Let’s go back to the home screen.
So it’s factory settings so you’re going to see the standard screen like this:
Let’s make this more kid-friendly, unless your 5 year is super into stocks, in which case: enjoy your early retirement!
The first thing I do is put all the Apple default apps that my kids don’t care about into the default “Extras” folder, rename that folder to “Apple Default” and then move that folder to a back page. Looks like this:
I put almost all the Apple apps in here that I think the kids won’t care about or don’t need quick access to: Stocks, Reminders, Newsstand, Health, Passbook, Contacts, Tips, Phone (for sure no need for this one now), Mail, Calendar, iBooks, iTunes Store, Notes, and more. Your mileage may vary.
Basically, I’m going to build an organizational structure that looks like my phone: most used apps on the home page, folders of apps or secondary apps on the second page, the App Store and apps we’re trying out on the third page, and the Apple Default apps and rarely used apps on the fourth and final page.
But first we need to bring in some non-default apps and we can start without spending a cent of a iTunes Gift Card.
Step 7: Room is set up, let’s bring in the games! The educational games, of course, madam.
If your kids have already downloaded games onto your own iPhone and your ID is set-up as the App Store ID then it’s easy to re-download them (no additional charge) to this new rig. Go to App Store>Updates>Purchased. You’ll see a list of all the apps ever bought with that ID, to download one to this phone just tap on the cloud icon. Looks like this:
A similar process can be used to re-download any music, movies, or tv shows that were bought with your Apple ID. Go to iTunes>More>Purchased.
During this initial set up phase, you might want to go back to Settings>General>Restrictions and set Require Password back to 15 minutes to avoid typing it over and over again. Just make sure to put it back to “Immediately” immediately after this initial downloading frenzy.
So you’ve downloaded the family’s greatest hits and then you moved them into into an organizational pattern that makes it easy for kids and adults to navigate and avoid the apps that they don’t care about. Here’s a visual of how ours looks at this step:
And highlighting four of our family favorites:
- Toca Boo: it’s Halloween 2014 as I write the first version of this, so this is a current favorite. But really I don’t think you can go wrong with picking an app from the Toca Boca family of apps. Smart, witty, and gentle apps. There’s Toca Tailor, Toca Lab, Toca Builders, and much more Toca fun.
- Tiny Wings: already considered an iOS classic, it’s a seemingly simple game where you help a little bird “fly over” hills. Gorgeous animation, music and super fun to try to master for both kids and adults.
- Minecraft PE: there’s a reason every other kid I saw at my son’s Halloween parade had a MC block-head on, Minecraft is an amazing creative experience, like an endless Lego box for kids.
- Akinator the Genie: This is really fun game to play with the boys when we’re waiting a restaurant. The kids pick a character and then the app’s genie asks yes and no questions to try to figure it out. When our little dude was 4 we had to outlaw “Peter Pan” from the game when we caught him using it for the 4th time in a row, but otherwise a fun party game experience.
Bonus: Plants Vs Zombies 2: this is in some ways the kind of game, I want you to avoid – freemiumn with in-app purchases abounding BUT I include it because it is so fun and it’s very easy to play the full game without buying anything. (Which you turned off above anyway.)
Step 8: Resources for additional app purchases.
There are of course entire web sites devoted to reviewing apps for kids, but my cursory experiences with them is a lot of the time they are…well the technical word is: crappy.
However, here’s 2 that I like so far. If you have more suggestions, please let me know in the comments below:
Geeks with Juniors: 50 Best Apps for Kids in 2013: attractive site, complete list with links to individual reviews and the apps themselves.
Update 5/9/16: Jason Kottke wrote up a great list based on his experiences with his kids and his readers suggestions: A bunch of great educational-ish iPad apps for kids (iPad but a lot of the apps work on both devices)
Bonus: Motion Math Pizza, we downloaded this one after reading about it in the 2103 Geeks with Juniors list. You know “research.” And it was a huge hit with both me, my 7 year old and 5 year old (who needed help with some of the math.) You run your own virtual pizza parlor and it’s super charming, fun, and smart. Highly recommended.
Things We Love: Tinybop is an app company that makes beautiful and cool apps for kids ( be sure to look at their Human Body, Plants, and Homes), and they also have a blog that highlights apps outside of their company along with books, music, sites, and videos. Very cool resource.
There are two other lists of games that aren’t specifically built for kids (and a very small percentage that shouldn’t be downloaded for young kids – looking at you GTA:Chinatown), but overall these are choices for all-ages in the sharpest way.
Step 9: Wrapping it Up In Plastic
We’ve come a long way and it’s about time to hand over our newly remodeled iPhone BUT if you’ve ever seen a kid HAND-le an iPhone you know we’ll need a bit of insurance. It’s true for most adults, right?
One option is the Lifeforce:
LifeProof case for 4S: White/Grey: My in-laws started using these cases and I have to say they’re both solid and sleek. This 4S version is (Update 11/15: now only $19!), which isn’t a bad price for an insurance policy, but if you’re using a iPhone 5 (Update: now $42) or 5S(Update: $42) it’s going up.
In those cases, you might want to go the route I took and grab the classic brute case: The Otterbox. I went with the Otterbox Defender for 4S. It’s built like a tank with a plastic screen over the screen, not something I’d want for my own phone, but perfect for my rough and tumble boys.
These guys seem a bit intimidating to put together at first but luckily Youtube and Otterbox come to the rescue:
In the event there is an accident, I’d recommend taking a look at my friend Scotty Loveless’s article What to Do If You Break The Screen of Your iPhone or iPad.
Update 11/15: When I originally wrote this guide I endorsed iCracked as another repair option beyond Apple, because I had a number of successful experiences with one of their technicians. However, since they follow the Uber model of independent agents there’s no guarantee your tech will be up to snuff. Case in point: my family had one of their techs almost ruin our iPad 2 this summer and in the end the most iCracked could do was refund us the repair cost. Scotty’s post above is very sound advice: read it carefully and stick with Apple for your repair/replacement needs.
Everything is Awesome
If you follow this guide step by step, heck, if you just follow as much as it takes to build the ultimate game/movie watching/music listening machine for your kid out of a iPhone you were going to trade in for $20 I’ve done my job.
If there’s anything I can help with, please feel free to contact me. This is the most in-depth post yet on Bos Organization and hopefully a great example of my mission: “to help people relax, enjoy, and work smarter in their homes and on their Apple products.”
Want more help? Check out the update and improved version.