September is coming to a close, and so will the spate of back-to-school/child-oriented blog posts from me (I promise). Just...after my coming review of the Fuhu Nabi tablet. And - D'oh! - this post:
(Assumes whiny stand-up comedian voice) "Have you ever tried to get your kids to stop playing on your smartphone? What is UP with that? It's like their eyes...their pupils don't focus. They're always holding it super-close their face, because this is what Samsung commands them to do. And they always mumble sighed responses like "Yeeesss, Daaaaad" while they're Joyriding Jetpacks because that's wayyyyyy more interesting than anything you'll ever say to them."
(Apologies for the Seinfeld ripoffhomage)
As a geek dad who loves his gadgets, I hate having to constantly nag my kids to get off the iPhone/iPad/Wii/PC/3DS etc.
In my dreams, I would have an app that would allow me to set a daily time limit for ALL their devices, automatically locking them out after they hit their limit, or during certain times of the day (like bed time).
Essentially a Mobile Device Management (MDM) app for parents, this would also let me create a whitelist of kid-safe apps, prevent or control any downloads and generally track their usage.
(Speaking of MDM, let's take a quick commercial break to plug SAP Afaria, which was just ranked the leader of the MDM market for the 11th year in a row, according to IDC. Afaria's 16.4% share (by revenue) was more than twice its next closest competitor.)
Alas, I knew that a Parental Control App To Rule Them All was impossible. That's why so many parents are turning to childrens' tablets with built-in parental controls features (see my image gallery here).
How about something just for iOS? There's no shortage of MDM software for Apple; what about a parental control app?
The closest thing I could find was a $0.99 iOS app called TimeLock which, despite its name, doesn't actually lock your kids out from your iPad. It just beeps and buzzes annoyingly. Though knowing my kids, they will unfazedly keep ninja-slicing fruit through the buzzing until I storm over, redfaced and forehead throbbing.
That's what got me so interested when I heard about Kytephone. It's a newish, free app from three young Toronto developers. Kytephone already does many of the things I was looking for (albeit for Android):
- Manage what games and apps that kids are allowed to play, and set a daily time limit for them (see screenshot);
- Let you remotely track and manage your child's activity. For instance, if you see that your kid is playing Scribblenauts while he or she is at school, you can remotely turn off the device. You can also remotely track their location;
- Block pop-up screens that direct kids to download and buy apps and upgrades;
- Let parents create a whitelist of phone numbers from which their kids can receive texts or calls.
Little hackers won't be able to get around these restrictions, says Anooj Shah, one of the creators of Kytephone. For instance, holding down the on-off button or removing and replacing the battery typically causes an Android device to reboot and close all apps, including MDM. But a Kytephone-managed device will automatically resume the parentally-set 'Kid mode', he said.
"We have deep integration into Android," he said. "No one else has the full sandbox approach."
Coming features include:
- The ability to lock kids out during certain hours of the day;
- Let kids create an app wishlist while still blocking them from app stores;
- Enable parents to reward kids with more screen time if they finish chores or do well in school.
Most of the features will still be available in the free version, though Shah says they plan to release a premium (paid) version of Kytephone by the end of the year.
When I asked about creating a Kytephone for the iPhone, Shah confirmed what I feared: they had no plans today. Shah said iOS doesn't make it easy for developers to create separate parent and child modes, as Android allowed them to build.
I guess I'll have to keep dreaming of an Uber-App for Parental Controls. Or wait until my kids turn into 16. I think the latter may come first.