All posts in “parents”

Facebook brings Messenger Kids to Fire tablets


Messenger Kids, Facebook’s new app designed to allow those under the age of 13 to more safely communicate thanks to parental controls, is today launching on Fire tablets. The service had originally debuted on iPad, iPhone and iPod touch in early December, but today’s launch will also see it arrive on the Amazon Appstore in the U.S., as well.

The app’s debut has not been without controversy.

The move comes at a difficult time for Facebook and for social media in general, where there are increasing concerns about social media’s ability to addict adults, and the impact that screen time has on children in particular.

Just this week, for example, Apple responded to investor concerns that the company needs to do more in terms of giving parents a way to limit children’s phone use. Apple said it would add new parental control features to its software.

Facebook, meanwhile, has been criticized across a number of fronts over the past year or so, from its ability to spread disinformation and create divides to how it’s able to hijack users’ brains to create an addiction of sorts. In that light, the launch of Messenger Kids has been criticized as the equivalent of cigarette marketers targeting underage smokers.

That said, as a parent myself, it’s one of those things that’s not as simple to dismiss as you might think.

The truth is, young kids are messaging each other anyway – through apps like Musical.ly, Snapchat and on iMessage. None of these have any tools for parental controls, which actually makes it harder to for parents who do try to monitor their children’s usage of devices and communication software when they’re young.

It’s very difficult today to help guide kids to the online world – and, yet, it’s still something that has to be done. Though we may not like it at times, the web is not going to go away, nor will people all of a sudden stop communicating and networking online.

Facebook, at least, has done something – even as the major tech companies, like Apple, have ignored parents’ concerns for years on this front.

Whether Facebook is the right company to aid in this matter, however, is a valid question. Its interests, after all, are about developing a new generation of users who become reliant on its platform, so it can continue to grow its ad business to the tune of billions.

The new Fire tablet version of Messenger Kids is here.

Pixel art coloring book apps are the newest App Store craze


Has your kid bugged you to let them download Sandbox Coloring? You’re probably not alone. The latest trend blowing up on the App Store is a new twist on the coloring book apps that have been popular for a couple of years. Now, instead of having users pick and choose their colors as before, this new group of coloring book apps – four of which recently snagged spots in the App Store’s Top 10 – are color-by-number books featuring retro-looking, pixel art designs.

Also unlike the previous lineup of coloring book apps, which were often marketed as “coloring books for adults,” the pixel art books appear to be an App Store trend driven by kids.

For starters, they’re coloring books – and while grown-ups have gotten in on that action in recent years, it’s a type of app that also largely appeals to children.

The pixel art coloring apps come up at the top of the App Store search results, when someone looks for keywords like “coloring” or “coloring book” – search terms kids are likely to enter.

More importantly, a signal the trend may be driven by a younger audience is that the new downloads appear to be coming from word-of-mouth, in many cases. This is mentioned repeatedly in the App Store reviews, where users say their friend told them about the app.

You can get a sense of the age of the user base by reading the App Store reviews, as well.

Clearly, a number of kids have shared their opinions on the matter of pixel art coloring, as in this sampling of reviews:

“My name is boobs I love boobs”

or

“Hello this is my favorite game I hope you make other games like this you guys are the best game makers” 

or

“Have u ever had a McChicken”

or

“I love this game so much! I play it in school, at my house, in the car. What I thought you could add is where you can take a pucture and slide a bar from hard witch would have lots of number/blocks and easy witch less numbers/block. I love the new search bar. Plz add my idea”

or

This app is so good you should get it rate it a 5555555 that’s what I did❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️it”

Just going out on a limb here, but these users are probably children.

And the kids can download.

In December, four apps hit the top 10 on the App Store, including Sandbox Coloring, Pixel Art – Color by Number, UNICORN – Number Coloring Book, and Color by Number: Coloring Book.

According to data from Sensor Tower, the top four pixel art coloring apps have a combined 12 million downloads – half of which are from the U.S. alone – since the beginning of November. Roughly half of those downloads occurred this month.

While Sandbox Coloring may have started the trend, the app called Unicorn is in the lead for the month of December, narrowly beating Sandbox for the most downloads.

Also notable is that apps generate revenue through subscriptions, not one-time purchases as other “kid” apps have done in the past, when offering access to premium content for paying users. Instead, these apps offer options like weekly, monthly, and annual subscriptions. These promise features like the regular release of new images, ad removal, or the ability to unlock unlimited pictures, among other things.

We reached out to the app makers to confirm Sensor Tower numbers, but none responded. One of the published support emails didn’t even work.

Yep, that’s right – you’re not dealing with game makers like EA or Supercell here; but rather indie developers for the most part.

The original trendsetter, Sandbox Coloring, comes from Russian developer Alexey Grigorkin, for example. His app’s support site is the barest of web pages.

Sensor Tower estimates that Grigorkin has made over $500,000 this month alone from Sandbox’s in-app purchases.

Unicorn, from U.K. developer AppsYouLove, is in the lead by downloads at present, but not ranking. It made more than Sandbox in December – as much as $630,000, estimates Sensor Tower.

It doesn’t appear these developers are bothering with traditional social media marketing, thanks to their ability to ride the trend to get surfaced in App Store search, and from kids telling other kids. AppsYouLove’s Facebook Page, for example, has 3 Likes. That’s not a typo. Just 3. I guess the kids aren’t on Facebook.

Belarus-based Easybrain, which makes Pixel Art – Color by Number, hasn’t even bothered adding the app to its website or giving it a Facebook Page for it, the way it did with its prior success, Sudoku.

Only Color by Number seems to come from a larger company: TFG.co, a game developer in Latin America, with over 100 employees. (It’s also the maker of the popular coloring book for adults, Colorfy.) But Color by Number hasn’t made it to TFG.co’s site yet, either. It just has its own basic landing page.

Of course, App Store trends like these don’t always last. And in fact, the top four slipped a bit as of today, with only Sandbox retaining its top 10 ranking. Color by Number dropped to #12 and Unicorn is #17. Pixel Art, which was the #27 Top App yesterday, has moved over to the Top Games chart today, where it’s #8.

But these apps may again see a spike in a few days’ time – if kids unwrap new tablets and iPods at Christmas, that is.

Babierge might just be the answer to your baby gear travel nightmares


Traveling with a baby for the holidays? First you’ve got your own gear to worry about, then a stroller, something for the baby to sleep in like a bassinet or pack n’ play, a baby carrier, toys, snacks, a diaper bag, possibly a car seat and whatever else the plane might allow you to shove into the overhead compartment or check at the gate. Then you’ve got to soothe and entertain the little one so everyone on the plane doesn’t hate you. the struggle. is. real.

But one startup out of New Mexico hopes to at least take care of the gear portion of your personal travel nightmare. Babierge (think baby+concierge) is a baby gear rental marketplace where, instead of lugging everything around with you from city to city, you can rent baby cribs, strollers and whatever else you’ll need from individuals wherever you go.

It’s also a way for families, called “trusted partners” to make an extra bit of cash for the baby gear they already have.

It works like this: those needing baby gear log onto the site and choose the destination city they’ll be traveling to. From there, you’ll see the family willing to rent and the equipment they have to offer listed below. Choose what you need and then select the dates you’ll need the equipment. From there you’ll see if the gear is available and the total price depending on how many days you want to rent. If all looks good you can check out and arrange for delivery wherever you may be in town.

© Nancee E. Lewis/San Diego Union-Tribune via ZUMA Wire

It’s conceivable the company could go beyond baby gear at some point. This month, some on the site are even offering holiday packages beyond baby gear such as delivery of a full-bodied faux pine Christmas tree that comes pre-lit with 300 mini-white & 300 mini-colored lights or a Menorah with candles and matches. However, given the name and focus the site isn’t likely to branch out further than a few of these one-offs.

Still, its growth is a testament to fulfilling a need in the market. According to Maier, Babierge has served about 5,000 traveling families this year, fulfilling more than 400 orders during Thanksgiving alone.

The company launched a mere 18 months ago and so far covers more than 100 markets in the U.S. and Canada. Babierge co-founder Fran Maier also tells TechCrunch Babierge is adding about 5 new markets a week — and all that on very little funding of about $500,000 from friends and family so far.

Of course, activity is going to spike around big family travel days like Thanksgiving and Christmas and Babierge will need to figure out how to sustain sales and revenue throughout the year. It’s also seen fast adoption from those wanting to rent their goods in several markets and will likely need more cash to help it safely scale.

Maier told TechCrunch she expects to get to about 6,000 orders by year’s end and has considered raising from venture capital or “wood for the fire” for next year.

In a way, the startup is a bit like Airbnb in the early days, but on a niche, baby scale. Still, it’s able to learn from those who’ve gone before and I’m told it does offer liability insurance to ensure no harm comes to either party in the process.

Or perhaps it’s more like a Craigslist. Trusted partners choose the pick up and delivery details and list their pictures, emails and phone numbers on the site. Babierge will need to scramble that contact info or create a messaging system to prevent unscrupulous individuals from abuse.

But Babierge says it also offers required safety and cleanliness training for all partners and is a good way for stay-at-home moms to earn a little extra cash for used baby items. The average partner makes about $600 per month, according to the startup.

Overall, it seems like a pretty useful idea and without much competition, excepting one company out of Colorado called Babies Away, which offers similar rental services in about 80 locations throughout the U.S.

“But they haven’t changed,” Maier says. Though Babies Away, which has been in business since 199, does offer more equipment on the site.

But it doesn’t come with the same personal touch or family friendly feel as Babierge. There’s no Christmas tree delivery, for instance.

It’s also not geared towards moms hoping to make a few extra bucks on extra gear. Babies Away partners run their shops like a straight up business.

But it’s a niche industry, either way. Parents (and grandparents and other family members hosting the parents) don’t need to rent gear all the time. Just a few time a year when families are traveling. Still, Babierge fills a definite need for those not wanting to lug their entire nursery with them around this time of year and i’m glad it’s around as I’ll be joining this special lot in the next few months.

Featured Image: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

Jellies is a kid-friendly, parent-approved alternative to YouTube Kids


As YouTube reels from a series of scandals related to its lack of policing around inappropriate content aimed at children, obscene comments on videos of children, horrifying search suggestions, and more, a new app called Jellies has arrived to offer parents a safer way to let their kids watch videos on mobile devices.

Jellies was built by Ken Yarmosh, founder of Savvy Apps, which has been making mobile apps for years, largely for clients like PBS, NFL, Homesnap, Navient, Levi’s, and others, in addition to passion projects like mobile calendar app Agenda and Today Weather.

As a parent, Yarmosh says he, too, was afflicted by the problems with YouTube that have recently come to light – namely, that allowing an algorithm to dictate what kids should watch will not lead to the safest environment.

“My oldest child is now five-and-a-half, but when he was two and three, he would love watching videos as many kids do,” explains Yarmosh. “YouTube became basically a non-starter because of the ads and him veering into things he shouldn’t very easily. Once YouTube Kids came out, I thought that would be the solution, so I kind of shelved the idea of Jellies,” he says.

But Yarmosh soon realized that YouTube Kids wasn’t working, either. His child was scared by videos for older kids (like one for “Hotel Transylvania 2”); he became obsessed with toy unboxings and egg surprises leading him to beg for toys; and he watched YouTube stars who demonstrated bad behavior, which impacted the way he acted.

These problems led to the creation of Jellies.

Its solution is complete human curation of video content, combined with a focus on videos that allow kids to explore their world, instead of being force-fed videos designed to promote consumerism, distraction, and bad attitudes. That is, the company’s selection of videos won’t include those with “ego-driven online ‘stars,’” the Jellies website proclaims, nor will it feature those where toys are unboxed or videos with inappropriate ads.

In fact, the app doesn’t include any ads at all.

The company instead chooses to generate revenue through a subscription model, charging $4.99/month for ongoing access to its video collection, which includes the addition of new video playlists on a weekly basis.

The video selection process is something the team at Jellies has thought about carefully. The company referenced The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guidelines and age-range data from San Francisco non-profit Common Sense Media, to help with its curation process. This helped Jellies to figure out not just which videos make sense for which age groups, but also which topics should be included in its kid-friendly app.

For example, Common Sense Media suggests that videos inspiring creativity and imagination are important for children as young as two, while those that demonstrate good interpersonal skills – like sharing or waiting your turn – should be shown to slightly older kids. Videos that teach good values, like those focused on personal responsibility and ethics, can be brought in around age 5, Common Sense Media says. And older kids can be encouraged to develop critical thinking skills.

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As any parent with a YouTube-addicted kid can tell you, the videos children watch can also influence their behavior. The kids begin to imitate the smart aleck-y, sassy YouTube personalities they see online, much to parents’ annoyance. Jellies’ position is that the videos children watch should demonstrate better behavior for kids to mimic. That means there are no YouTube stars on Jellies, and its videos are more educational than sensational.

To create the initial round-up of videos featured in Jellies, video viewers watched thousands of hours of YouTube videos to make sure they fit the company’s criteria. There are now over 3,000 handpicked videos across over 100 topics, with 4-5 being added per week, including seasonal topics.

Some technology helps with video selection, but ultimately human curation is the final deciding factor here.

“While we are developing tech to help, notice computers are last in our list. Yes, we get that the industry believes scale is important and values that highly or solely. We believe safety and quality are more important than algorithms that scale as of now,” says Yarmosh.

Beyond the more careful curation of content compared to what’s found on YouTube, Jellies also introduces a number of controls that put parents in charge of what the kids get to watch. Though a “Parents Model” option, moms and dads can select their kids’ favorite topics for inclusion in the app – like trains, planes, baby animals, sea creatures, and the like, for example. They can also add educational content, like ABCs and Shapes, if they choose, and remove other content as they see fit.

Meanwhile, children use the app in a special “Kids Mode” that lets them move between topics and explore videos, giving them a sense of autonomy even though they’re viewing only parent-approved videos.

Though Jellies does feature videos for schoolagers, not just preschoolers, it may be hard to pull older kids out of YouTube’s world after having been immersed for years.

It may be easier for parents with younger kids to just present them with Jellies, and never make YouTube watching an option.

A number of apps over the years have tried to offer curated versions of YouTube, but Jellies is hitting at a crucial time – when things have gotten so bad on YouTube’s platform that brands are even freezing their advertising due to its unsafe nature for children. That could help the app find an audience.

Jellies is a free download on the App Store with the subscription available via in-app purchase.

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YouTube Kids update gives kids their own profiles, expands controls


YouTube Kids, the kid-friendly, more filtered version of YouTube first introduced in 2015, is getting a notable upgrade. The updated app is adding several new features designed to reflect the app’s now aging user base, including profiles that are customized based on the kid’s date of birth, as well as additional security controls for parents and kids.

While YouTube Kids came under fire in the past for not fully locking down the YouTube experience, overall, it’s a safer way to allow kids to browse YouTube compared with giving them access to the main app.

The Kids app is designed with a simpler interface, fun music, and curated selections of kid-appropriate content from publishers like DreamWorks TV, Jim Henson TV, Mother Goose Club, Talking Tom and Friends, National Geographic Kids, Reading Rainbow, and Thomas the Tank Engine, among others.

In response to earlier complaints, parents were later allowed to toggle off the app’s search capabilities and set their own private passcode, instead of using the default setting which spells out numbers as words for parents to enter.

In the new release, parents can now sign in with their Google account in order to create customizable profiles for their child or children.

Based on the kid’s age, YouTube Kids will change the way it looks. This will be useful not only for parents with multiple kids, but also because YouTube Kids itself, by default, looked like an app that was designed more so for preschoolers than the school age crowd.

With the new profiles, younger children will see an app that uses less text while older kids will have more content on their homescreens, says YouTube.

Plus, kids with brothers or sisters can choose to set their own passcode to keep the others out of their own account. (Parents, of course, can override this if need be.)

The app also introduces a new setup process for parents that includes more detailed information to help them make the right choices related to the parental control options, as well as be more informed about the app in general.

For example, a longer intro explains to parents that YouTube does not manually review the videos in YouTube Kids – meaning there’s still a chance that something inappropriate could get through its automated filters. And it details how to block and report the videos that slip through.

“Remember our systems work hard to filter out more mature content from the app. But no system is perfect,” writes Balaji Srinivasan, YouTube Kids Engineering Director, in today’s blog post announcing the upgraded app.

In other words, YouTube Kids is definitely saying that it’s not going to devote additional staff to make YouTube Kids 100 percent safe. It’s just aiming for “good enough.”

A final setup screen offers a longer explanation as to why parents may want to turn search on or off, allowing parents to better understand the risk associated with that decision.

YouTube says it’s now working on a way to allow parents to add more content to the app, but doesn’t go into detail. It’s also looking into building out the experience for tweens, with a focus on the categories that most appeal to that somewhat older demographic.

Though YouTube Kids may not be perfect, it has proven to be popular. The app is now live in 37 countries, has more than 11 million weekly active viewers, and has seen more than 70 billion views in the app. (The new kid profiles, however, are only available in select markets for now. The full list is here.)