Apple’s Missed Opportunity: The Family Tablet

A coworker came to me recently for advice about buying a tablet for his family, one that he and his wife could use and share with his toddler. Specifically, he wanted a way to create timed parental controls, and he wanted to make sure he was right in believing the Kindle Fire was a better fit than the iPad.

Basically, he wanted Kindle FreeTime and was disappointed that iOS parental controls were far weaker and less fine-grained. He was envisioning being able to hand his daughter a tablet, locking her into specific apps and limiting her non-educational time, something that can really only be automated well on the Kindle. What really disappointed him was that he called Apple to confirm there was no way to easily switch controls around, and Apple told him to buy a separate tablet for his child if that’s what he wanted.

Obviously, Apple doesn’t design iOS for multiple users, even parent/child. Look how long it took for them to tweak the in-app purchasing system after parents complained. This strategy clearly hasn’t hurt them, but it does leave them vulnerable. Kids are practically born working smartphones, something we’ve seen with our son. He has no idea what he’s doing, but he does know how to accidentally hang up the phone (must be the allure of the big red button). I have no doubts that before we know it he will be begging for a chance to play games on our phones.

I haven’t used FreeTime on the Fire, so I can’t comment on how that might work, but I do think that when he’s ready to play with the phones, we will be handing our son my Windows phone over Sarah’s iPhone thanks to Kid’s Corner. For those who aren’t familiar with Windows Phone, Kid’s Corner is a separate start for kids that you can set up on your phone. At the lock screen, you swipe left instead of up, and it takes you to a special area with apps you’ve selected. No browser, no phone, no email, no marketplace, and only the games and videos you’ve approved. It’s a way to have a curated kid-friendly area instead of having to dig through layers of parental controls.

There is nothing similar to this for iOS, and there needs to be sooner rather than later. Apple could capture families from a very young age with a kid-friendly iOS setting! In fact, why not sell a kid friendly version of the iPad-call it the ePad after the old eMac! Apple already sells the old iPad 2 for some odd reason, why not use that old hardware to run an even more restricted version of iOS just for kids? Schools would love it, parents would love it, and it would stave off the competition. In the meantime, the lack of family friendly parental controls is a major Achilles heel for Apple…it’s cost them at least one sale, and I am quite sure I my coworker’s family is not the only one faced with this dilemma!


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7 replies

  1. Precisely. And the reason? Practically no one working in Silicon Valley has a family. FreeTime is great for small kids and quite useless for kids old enough to demand online purchases. Hmmm. Maybe they understand families better than I thought…

  2. I get what you are saying and really feel that every company that makes consumer products SHOULD make parental management of those products as easy and transparent as possible. OR allow hooks for 3rd party developers to fill the void. We know Apple won’t do the second one, so they should really double down on parental controls.

    My big question with these things is always how much is ‘responsible parenting’ (i.e. allowing them to use devices but placing ‘safety limits’, etc) and how much is ‘absentee parents providing a surrogate pacifier’ (i.e. those kids wondering malls mindless glued to a Nintendo DS.)

    • But even responsible parenting needs to be easy to work, and iOS parental controls are awful, especially compared to Kindle FreeTime and Windows Phone’s Kids Corner. Both let you set the controls and dip in and out with ease, as opposed to iOS, where you need to go into settings and select each app and control setting, and when your kid is done, go back into settings and reverse it.
      This isn’t about whether your device should be a babysitter (and it shouldn’t) but about how you allow your child to use a device, have some freedoms to play, and keep them from breaking something/ordering $500 worth of in-app purchases, or shooting an email of gibberish to your boss. Apples view is that your kid should have their own tablet if that’s what you want, instead of judiciously controlled access to a parent’s, and that’s a huge flaw for them.
      Sent from my iPad

    • Some of each, honestly. When my kids were younger, we watched them very, very closely, and had very tight restrictions on electronic gizmo use. No computers or whatever in their bedrooms, no smartphones, and wandered by often when they were logged in. Yes, I’m sure they pulled a fast one now and again but overall, I think they did okay.

      That changes when they get older, especially their teen years. Then, some controls are really needed. So I’m with Judie; I think this is real hole for Apple, and wish they’d take care of it.

  3. Tito, I’m LOL about your comment. Remember in many west coast locales, there are more dogs than children.

  4. I’m quite surprised that an Apple rep. actually said that to him. I have had a hunch that that was their marketing strategy, but now I know. Bad Strategy! I have also had a strong hunch that this was the reason they were holding out on offering larger iPhones. They don’t want it to cut into their tablet market. I’m not suggesting that Apple only make a large iphone, but offer people choice. They would have had me as a customer years ago if that was part of their strategy, but now it would be very hard to win me over.