As recently as four or five years ago, Apple’s parental controls were considered to be the industry standard for mobile devices. They give parents a lot of basic functionality, including the ability to disable apps and features, select allowed content ratings for music, video, podcasts, and apps, and do either basic web filtering or blacklist/whitelist website selections. However, while these settings work pretty well for use with younger children, they do lack a level of flexibility that work make them better as kids grow into teenagers.Apple also lacks any built-in monitoring mechanisms, currently.
While Google has continued to lag even further behind when it comes to parental controls, Amazon actually passed Apple up in a lot of ways with their FreeTime parental controls system for the Kindle Fire a few years ago. It is far more comprehensive, adding in device time management and reporting. For whatever reason, Apple hasn’t responded to this in a major way, as of yet. This is surprising to me, considering that Apple has built a strong reputation for building “family-friendly’ products. So while Apple had an early lead in this of parental controls, they now find themselves squarely in the middle of the pack.
On Friday, Jana Partners and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, two significant Apple investors that own over $2 billion in company stock, released an open letter asking the company to push its parental controls, usage limiting, and tracking features further. One thing that stands out to me about this letter is that it is JAM PACKED with all kinds of research and study results on child development and safety. It is an interesting read for this alone, and I highly recommend taking a look. However, the authors were also careful to balance this out by not drawing definitive conclusions that cannot be supported by the data currently available. They instead advocate for Apple to create better tools that allow parents to more easily help their children to strike a healthy balance of beneficial use and downtime.
The other thing I found notable about the letter was its tone. It stands in sharp contrast to the constant hyperbole and accusations often thrown around in the tech media and by tech bloggers. The authors, Barry Rosenstein of JANA Partners and Anne Sheehan of CALSTRS, struck a very reasoned and consolatory balance here. Rather than cast stones at Apple, they seemed more interested in seeking a partnership to help the company improve their parental controls and monitoring features. They actually laid out a practical case where such improvements should drive customer satisfaction even higher, which would in turn ultimately benefit investors. I must say that I found it to be a refreshing and very intelligent approach.
Apple Answers Back
The Wall Street Journal first reported on a response from Apple to this investor letter. Apple first made it clear that they have been on the forefront of parental controls for mobile devices since the opening of the App Store in iPhone OS 2. While this is certainly true and Apple didn’t stop there, either, this area hasn’t seen a major revamp for several years, and it is definitely time.
On that note, Apple gave the following statement indicating that they may already be working on xome new parental control on monitoring features for an upcoming release:
“We think deeply about how our products are used and the impact they have on users and the people around them,” Apple said in the statement. “We take this responsibility very seriously and we are committed to meeting and exceeding our customers’ expectations, especially when it comes to protecting kids.”
The company added that it is “constantly looking” for ways to improve its devices and said that it plans new features that will make the tools it provides parents “even more robust.”
This statement is obviously and intentionally very vague. However, it could very well point to new features that we will see in iOS 12. Considering hw long its been since Apple made any major revisions to this area of iOS, I would not be at all surprised to see a major revamp of iOS’ parental oversight features revealed at WWDC.
What do you think of Apple’s Parental Controls? Have you used them? Did you find them effective? Where did they fall short for you? What would you like to see added? Let me know what you think in the Comments section below, on Flipboard, on our Facebook page, or on Twitter @iPadInsightBlog.