All posts in “parents”

Google’s parental control software, Family Link, launches to public


Family Link, Google’s parental control software for Android devices, is now exiting its beta testing period and is now generally available to anyone in the U.S. without the need for an invitation. The software, which lets parents manage apps, set screen time limits and device bedtimes, can be used from either an iOS or Android device, but is designed specifically to manage a child’s Android device.

First introduced in March as an invite-only program, Family Link lets parents block or approve app download – similar to Apple’s iCloud Family Sharing “Ask” feature for iOS devices. Plus, parents are able to get an idea of what apps are capturing their child’s attention by viewing weekly and monthly activity reports.

The software also lets parents limit device usage, including by configuring a maximum number of hours per day the child is allowed to be on their device, as well as when the child is to be automatically locked out for “bedtime.” These limitations can vary by the day of the week, as well, so parents can be stricter on school nights than on weekends, for example.

However, Family Link does not include a generalized content filtering option like some third-party parental control apps do, but it can control the filtering options in Google’s own apps like the Google Search app and Chrome.

Initially, Family Link required both parent and child to be on Android, but that changed in April with the release of an iOS version of the Family Link parental control app. The service also works via a web browser.

The Family Link software is a differentiator for Android as compared with iOS, which instead offers a “Restrictions” section that’s focused more on what apps a child can use – either by toggling on or off Apple’s default apps or by app ratings – as well as use other settings for controlling what a child can do on the device, and configure privacy options.

However, Apple does not offer a way for a parent to set time limits, remotely lock a device, or view activity reports on app usage. For now, those sorts of tools have been left to third-party developers.

Family Link can control any Android device running Android Nougat (7.0) and higher, and select Marshmallow devices. (A full list is in this FAQ). Parents, meanwhile, only need to have Android KitKat (4.4) or higher, or iOS 9 and higher.

Though the software is now freely available, Google says it’s still considering user feedback in terms of rolling out Family Link’s next set of features.

Preschoolers get their own Pokémon game with launch of Pokémon Playhouse


A new app called Pokémon Playhouse from the Pokémon Company, released this week, is bringing Pikachu and friends to preschoolers. Unlike the augmented reality game Pokémon Go, a collaboration between Niantic and Nintendo by way of the Pokémon Company, this latest game is not focused on capturing Pokémon, battling and raids. Instead, it’s filled with activities appropriate for those ages 3 to 5 years old.

For example, young players can take care of their Pokémon in a ‘Pokémon Grooming’ activity, or they can look for Pokémon in the night sky in the ‘Search the Stars’ feature. They can also doing things like start a band with Pokémon, feed them treats, or take them to an interactive park, as well as solve simple puzzles or listen to stories.

Many of these activities are reminiscent of the sorts of things you’d see in other children’s apps, like those from Toca Boca or Furby, for example.

In addition, a human character guides players through the activities, to make it more accessible to young players.

As for the Pokémon themselves, the company says the game will include “never-before-seen expressions of Pokémon” such as Pikachu, Bulbasaur, Litten, and Snorlax.

The game advances as the young trainers continue to play. As they complete the various in-app activities, they get closer to hatching Eggs that feature new Pokémon to add their collection. In total, there are over 50 Pokémon included in the game.

According to The Pokémon Company, the new game is meant to introduce Pokémon to a younger audience because it believes the property should be for all ages.

“Playhouse offers our youngest fans the opportunity to explore the world of Pokémon in an environment made just for them,” said J.C. Smith, senior director of Consumer Marketing at The Pokémon Company International, in a statement. “As the popularity of the Pokémon brand continues to grow, we’re thrilled to launch the first-ever Pokémon preschool expression with Pokémon Playhouse, offering parents an age-appropriate and entertaining experience for the littlest Trainers in their family.”

And while the Pokémon Go game is wildly popular – having crossed $1.2 billion in revenue and 752 million downloads as of this summer – that game can also be a little challenging for preschoolers.

Parents will also be glad to know that, unlike Pokémon Go, Pokémon Playhouse won’t have kids begging for money for in-app purchases. The game itself is a free download, and all its content is free as well.

Rather, it seems the goal with Pokémon Playhouse is to generate interest in the world of Pokémon at a younger age, which will eventually lead kids to Pokémon Go when they’re older. And that benefits Nintendo, given the company gets a 19 percent cut of Go’s total revenues, it’s been reported. Pokémon Go’s success also had a halo effect on Nintendo’s hardware sales, and The Pokémon Company makes money by licensing its brand to toy makers like TOMY and Wicked Cool Toys.

Pokémon Playhouse is available for both iOS and Android.

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Amazon’s chat fiction app Rapids ties up with Amazon Studios with launch of ‘Signature Stories’


Today’s kids aren’t just reading books. They’re also tapping and playing with interactive stories on tablets as preschoolers, then delving into instant messaging-like chat fiction apps as teens. Amazon’s entry in this space, Amazon Rapids, was announced late last year as a way to bring this style of interactive fiction to readers in the 5 to 12 age range.

The company more recently introduced a new program called “Signature Stories” that aims to make its stories more appealing by integrating characters from TV shows kids already know and love.

The move could help Amazon gain ground in today’s increasingly competitive ‘chat fiction’ app market.

Adults may not have heard of them, but chat reading apps are hugely popular on the App Store, across age ranges. For example, the number one free app in App Store’s “Books” category at present is chat stories app Hooked, which is closely followed by rival Yarn in spot #2, as well as Wattpad’s newer entry in the space, Tap, at #9. Other chat readers can also be found in the top 20.

Amazon Rapids doesn’t appear in this section’s top charts, however, because the company introduced its chat reading app in the “Education” section on the App Store instead. Likely, this was done with the hopes that Rapids would better stand out if it didn’t have to compete directly with the other chat readers; plus, it helps to better target parents looking for apps that don’t just entertain, but also teach.

The Rapids subscription service allows kids to read along with its stories with optional audio, and tap on words for help with pronunciation or definitions, in addition to tapping to reveal each new line of character dialog.

Rolled out just ahead of Comic-Con International last week, Amazon Rapids’ new Signature Stories program isn’t just leveraging kids TV IP – like kids’ characters themselves – from its participating partners; it’s also bringing in celebrity voice talent to narrate the new stories.

However, the program at launch is only rolling out with support from Amazon Studios, making the entire effort more of a cross-promotion between Amazon properties, for the time being. But Amazon is leaving the door open to future partners who want to find new ways to reach children in today’s digital age, where traditional book-reading now has to compete with apps, games and other mobile content.

Amazon Studios’s new original stories on Amazon Rapids feature characters from Amazon’s kids’ TV shows, including “Danger & Eggs,” and “Niko and the Sword of Light.” The former includes the celebrity voice talent of Aidy Bryant of Saturday Night Live, while the latter brings in Tom Kenny, who voices SpongeBob Squarepants.

These shows may not be the big-name kids’ brands that parents are familiar with – like Sesame Street, for example, or Disney – but assuming your household has Amazon Prime Video, there’s a good chance your kids will know of them. (I know we do.)

The stories themselves are also authored by the shows’ writers, extending the universe introduced by the series in a natural way.

While popular kids’ TV shows have historically translated into other merchandise like dolls, toys, books, and more, chat stories are something of a new frontier for studios and programmers.

Despite chat fiction apps’ current popularity, it’s unclear whether interaction stories will be a fad, or if it represents a new way kids of the digital age will read for fun, in the longer term.

Amazon Rapids is a subscription service, which also includes a parent dashboard where mom or dad can check in on kids’ progress, as well as find information that will help them start conversations about what kids are reading. The service is available on iOS, Android, and Amazon Fire devices for $2.99 per month to start.

Kids app maker Toca Boca debuts its first consumer product collection at Target


Toca Boca, a hugely popular kids’ app maker, has grown to over 170 million downloads across its line of 38 apps, which 13 million children use every month. Now, the company is transitioning its brand beyond the digital space to become a maker of real-world products, as well. In an exclusive deal with Target, announced today, Toca Boca will launch its own collection of apparel, accessories, sleepwear, backpacks, lunch bags, bedding and activity books, aimed at kids ages 5 to 9.

The collection will feature Toca Boca’s iconic characters and style, and will adhere to the same design principles that has made its apps – which the company refers to as “digital toys” – so well-liked.

If you’re a parent, it’s nearly impossible to miss out on the Toca Boca craze. The Stockholm-based app maker dominates today’s App Store, thanks to its clever and thoughtfully designed suite of apps. To give you an idea of its market traction, the company currently has 23 percent market share among the paid kid apps on the App Store – that’s a huge chunk of the pie.

The U.S., in particular, is a key market for Toca Boca, accounting for nearly a third of its total user base across both Android and iOS.

What makes Toca Boca so appealing to children is that the apps are designed to inspire more open-ended play. Unlike most games, there are levels to beat or scores to top; instead, Toca Boca lets kids just have fun with apps – whether that’s cutting and styling characters’ hair, hosting a tea party, putting together a band and making music, creating robots, or even designing or playing within virtual worlds, as with its Toca Life series (e.g. Toca Life: City, Toca Life: Farm, etc.), Toca Nature, and more.

The company grew out of the 200-year-old Swedish publishing firm Bonnier, where it had operated like a startup. It was sold in 2016 to children’s entertainment company Spin Master, which produces kids TV “Paw Patrol” and others, and makes a number of toys, like the Flutterbye Fairies and Kinetic Sand, for example.

Toca Boca says it already had plans to expand beyond digital before Spin Master acquired it, but its new parent has been a helpful partner on this initiative.

“Toca Boca’s vision is to be a category-independent brand, to be a beacon in the world for kids. The move into physical products and licensing began nearly two years ago, before the acquisition, and marks a major milestone toward that goal,” explains Toca Boca COO, Caroline Ingeborn.

“However, working with Spin Master since the acquisition has been great as we have very complementary skill sets. They’ve been able to support us and offer a helpful perspective and we are looking forward to continuing to work with them in the future,” she says.

The debut collection at Target will include 38 individual SKUs, which will launch this month ahead of the back-to-school shopping season on both target.com and in retail stores. The clothing will be available in sizes 4 to 16, and will be available for both boys and girls – as the apps themselves have a cross-gender appeal. In addition, the collection will be merchandized between the boys’ and girls’ aisles in many Target stores, the company also notes.

Like its apps, the products follow the same design principles – clean lines, bright color palettes, and a bit of quirkiness – notes Toca Boca.

“The collection features some of kids’ favorite elements from Toca Life in a way we hope empowers kids and helps them express who they are,” notes Ingeborn. “We tried to inject the fun details we are known for in digital toys into everyday items — making playthings out of everything,” she adds.

The products, at a glance, are obviously from Toca Boca – and it’s likely kids who see them in Target’s aisles will immediately make the connection.

While this is the first time Toca Boca will have its own consumer products, the company’s subsidiary Sago Mini, aimed the  preschool set, already has a line of books, plush toys, figurines, playsets, bedding, t-shirts, books, and more, which are sold online today. Its product line, first launched with toys in 2015, takes a different approach, however. Its primary focus is toys and it designs everything in-house.

Toca Boca, meanwhile, worked with licensees to create its debut line, including FABNY, The Foundery, Franco Manufacturing and Random House Children’s Books. The decision allowed it to bring its products to market more quickly, says Ingeborn. And its initial collection does not include toys.

What’s interesting about Toca Boca’s consumer product launch, too, is that it’s tying the physical goods to the apps in a unique way. Its Toca Life: City app is going free for the first time, and is being updated with a new feature and location where kids can unlock in-app gifts using a free code found inside Target’s stores.

The unlocked content will be some of the same items Toca Boca is selling at Target – effectively turning the app into a promotional mechanism for the real-world products.

Toca Boca’s collection hits Target on July 17.