At some point, your child will get a hold of your smart phone or tablet PC – and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Children always have a sharper, more natural intuition about technology than us grown-ups. Kids have never known a world without today's modern wonders and so have fewer acceptance barriers to overcome.
But while children under 10 are drawn to our gadgets, they also pose an innocent danger. You store sensitive data on your PC and phone, but your tyke could wipe it out with a finger swipe or key stroke, land on an inappropriate Web site, initiate a call that never gets hung-up, not to mention physical destruction (I told you not to mention it!).
Enter Kid Mode app from Zoodles, designed by internet executive Mark Williamson when he observed his then 4-year-old daughter struggle to play educational games on his computer.
While Kid Mode can't protect against a case of your kid physically manhandling your device, Kid Mode does provide just what its name says – a special kid-friendly "mode" for your Windows PC, Android or Apple iOS phone or tablet. It's a kid-friendly interface an 8-year-old or younger child can readily navigate for activities such as drawing, games, book reading, creating video emails – parents and grandparents can even create Storybook videos to read books along with the child if you're no one else is around.
Kid Mode also sets up a wall between your child and your device functions and files.
It's been kid-tested for Windows 7 PCs; the company says young 'uns have logged a million hours of play time on the Windows application.
You can see a demonstration of Kid Mode's capabilities here:
Now how much would you pay?
You create an account for your child on the Zoodles Web site or on the device to which you download the app. You can upload a photo of your child, and you indicate the child's age so age-appropriate activities are presented. Kid Mode lists birth years as far back as 1999, but to this non-parent, the Zoodle activities seem clearly designed for the under-8 crowd. Once registered, your Kid Mode account and settings can be accessed on any device to which you've downloaded and installed the app.
Perhaps the best thing about Kid Mode is – it's free.
There is a premium mode which allows you to emphasis certain subjects for your child – math, reading, science, science, etc. – in the books, games and other activities the app creates. You'd also be able to set violence levels – not that Kid Mode allows your kiddy to play a censored World of War craft, but you can eliminate even violent innuendos from the already kid-friendly activities, which I guess means if you set it to "No Violence," Hansel and Gretel merely scold the wicked witch instead of committing her to the original's more Grimm/grim, um, heated finish.
Two weeks after you register, you'll be prompted to upgrade to premium service. If you decline, you'll be prodded by three emails cajoling you to upgrade, which you can ignore and the app remains free in its limited mode. Or, you can sign up for the premium mode in the Parental Settings.
If you decide to upgrade, premium service is $7.95 per month, $39.95 for six months or $59.95 for a year.
Kid Mode chameleon
Since every device is different, the Kid Mode experience is different on each device. This difference depends mostly on whether your phone is compatible with Adobe Flash, the popular video format used to create Web-based video and games – compatibility notoriously absent on all Apple portable phones and tablets. With no Flash, Kid Mode is rather limited on the iPad – just the drawing app and some videos, many starring Bill Nye, the Science Guy; no games or books, which all require Flash – yet.
I played with Kid Mode a bit on both the iPad and the Motorola Xoom. Without Adobe Flash on the iPad, it's a good thing Kid Mode is free because there's not much there do.
There's a lot more to do on Flash-compatible Android devices, but the link to "Parental Settings" is, to me, too easy for the child to click on accidentally or on purpose. You have to trace the letter "Z" to get to the settings or exit the Kid Mode (you can lock the Home button), something an older child should have no trouble doing. A password would be better to keep your off-spring from springing off the app and into your phone's more sensitive places.
Zoodle execs tell me upgrades and additions are constantly under development, especially for Android devices.