Parents Need Mobile Device Management, Too

Parents Need Mobile Device Management, Too

Summary: Parental controls apps are to parents what mobile device management is to IT administrators. This is an area where Android, perhaps surprisingly, may have the lead over iOS.


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."

hypnotized kid tablet

(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.

Topics: ÜberTech, Android, Mobile OS, Mobility, Smartphones

Eric Lai

About Eric Lai

I have tracked technology for more than 15 years, as an award-winning journalist and now as in-house thought leader on the mobile enterprise for SAP. Follow me here at ÜberMobile as well as my even less-filtered musings on Twitter @ericylai

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  • Apple isn't kid friendly in general.

    The kind of features you hope for could only be applied by jailbreaking. Without level of access, an app will not ve able to sensor internet material, control usage times, installable apps.. The kind of things parents crave.

    I get it on iPads and phones, but touches are almost exclusively child-teen purchases nowadays; another reason i winced at the £250 price tag to go along with the new one. The gameboy I dreamed of as a child was attainable as a birthday gift if I saved up the money I got from washing my dad's car as well. That's only happening now if they've introduced minimum wages for kids on a £250 device.

    Even at the Apple ID Level they don't make it easy for parents to manage childrens accounts; they even advise you to work around their system.

    This app is very interesting indeed, and very useful going forward - the kids LOVE these things - but I see why it won't be on iOS
    • Sure, it's kid-friendly - it's just not parent-friendly ;)

      @MarknWill - Otherwise agree with everything else you're saying...

      I wonder if Apple would ever open up these APIs for a special flavor of iOS for iTouch only? Probably not, as it goes against their marketing strategy, and also make it too easy for technically-minded people to install that more open version of iOS onto iPads and iPhones.
      • I stand corrected ;-)

        It's funny how your views on kids' toys change as you get older.

        In response, I cant see there being anything to stop them implementing an iOS based parental control feature that you turn on/off and adjust settings with a passcode like restrictions does, but on a much more advanced level. It doesn't have to be an exteral app, just a more parent-focused restrictions menu.
  • It'll be interesting to what the built in kids

    stuff in WP8 looks like.
    Johnny Vegas
    • W8 has some great parental control features

      I've been using Windows8 since the consumer preview and am very impressed by the parental controls there. If you set up a kids account (a setting in account creation), it will send you a weekly report that shows how much time they spent on the computer, the top web sites they went to, what apps they played, and you have a link to block certain apps if you want. It's really quite good.

      Hopefully, WP8 will have similar type features.
      • Your Salvation is WP8 and W8

        Windows Phone 8 will come with a kids center and Windows 8 tablets will let you set up kids profiles and restrict their activity!
    • Re: what the built in kids stuff in WP8 looks like.

      But Microsoft has too closely copied Apple’s locked-down approach to make that possible.
  • Thanks for the tips!

    @kiz @jatbains I've got Win8 on my desktop machine and will start playing around with those features...
  • You can do this with your wireless router

    With a good router you can block sites and set time limits for everyone or for individual devices.
  • Have a look at Mobiflock My Child

    Hi Eric, have a look at Mobiflock My Child - www.mobiflock.com, it does what you are looking for on Android, BlackBerry (still used by children around the world thanks to fixed price bandwidth) and Nokia Symbian. iOS? Watch this space :)

    Would love to hear your feedback.

    @analogjoystick - remember your home wifi is only one of the ways your kids go online, as soon as they switch to mobile data or another wifi hotspot, they'll be unprotected again.
    Vanessa Clark
    • Thanks for the tip!

      I'll be truly excited if you guys can bring Mobiflock to iOS...
  • What about NetAddictFree for windows and adroid ?

    NetAddictFree is a parental control for android and windows. It allows you to set daily or weekly time limits for Apps, websites or user's account. Every child has an user account.
    I would be intersting to get your feedback on it.

    more information http://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.netaddictfree.netaddictmobile2&hl=en
    or on http://netaddictfree.com/UK

  • testest