Assessing the quality of early childhood communication apps using the user version of the Mobile Application Rating Scale (uMARS)

Iftu Abdullahi-Mohamed, Dawn Choo, Shani Dettman, Daniel Capurro

Background: Apps are a valuable adjunct to early intervention practices, especially during the sensitive period of language development. The validity of app store star ratings, types of health behaviours targeted and the evidence underpinning the efficacy of apps in speech pathology and audiology are however, still poorly understood.

Objective: This study firstly appraised the quality of language and communication apps relevant to children who are typically developing and for children with hearing loss up to five years of age. Secondly, this study explored types of health behaviours targeted by these apps and examined the presence or absence of evidence used to inform app development.

Methods: A systematic review of apps was conducted in iOS and Google Play app stores. Health behaviour types and availability of evidence were investigated for the 50 apps included in this study. Two raters evaluated each app using the user version of the Mobile Application Rating Scale (uMARS; Stoyanov et al., 2015), comprised of four objective subscales: Engagement, Functionality, Aesthetics and Information Quality.

Results: No significant correlations were found between uMARS subscale scores and app store ratings. The most common health behaviours identified were practicing listening and practicing speech sounds. Evidence-informed apps received significantly higher uMARS scores compared to apps with no reported evidence.

Conclusion: Clinicians and families would benefit from taking a cautious approach when using app store ratings to make decisions or recommendations about app quality. The development of a standardised framework for evaluating apps targeting early communication goals is warranted.