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Hands On With HereO, The Small And Simple GPS Watch Made Especially For Kids

If you’ve got a child between the ages of 3 and 8, you’re in an interesting spot as a parent. The kid is old enough to be involved in activities such as school and play dates, which can keep them out from under your watchful eyes for hours at a time. But they’re not quite old enough to have a cell phone of their own for keeping in touch.

A startup called HereO has made a gadget especially for keeping tabs on young kids in that age range. HereO has made what it claims is the world’s “smallest and coolest” GPS watch device, which connects with a mobile and web app to allow parents to keep track of where their children are at all hours of the day. The watch will retail for $149, and is available for $99 to people who fund the device’s ongoing IndieGoGo campaign. The GPS tracking service used by the app is paid for on a subscription basis, for $5 per month.

USA Today

There are of course other kid-focused GPS tracking devices on the market (they’re often actually referred to as digital ‘leashes’.) But the folks at HereO say that their offering is specially designed with a small form factor and eye-catching colors so that it might be something that kids might actually enjoy wearing. The idea is that it’s less a leash, and more of an accessory.

HereO’s chief strategy officer Daniel Leon stopped by TechCrunch headquarters to give us a look at the HereO experience from both the kids’ and parents’ perspective. Check that out in the video embedded above.

Read more: Hands On With HereO, The Small And Simple GPS Watch Made Especially For Kids

Apple Settles With FTC Over App Store In-App Purchases To Avoid “Distracting” Legal Fight

Apple has settled with the FTC over concerns about its in-app purchase system in iOS applications, according to a letter from Tim Cook to employees obtained by 9to5Mac. The FTC announced earlier that it would later be issuing a full statement regarding a settlement with an unnamed tech giant, but the letter, also obtained by CNBC, spills the beans early on the nature of the agreement.

In the letter, pasted in full below, Tim Cook explains that while Apple viewed the FTC complaint as a sort of “double jeopardy” for lawsuits from private citizens settled previously when Apple agreed to refund parents who’d banded together to get funds reimbursed for purchases made by their kids via the in-app mechanism, the company in the end decided that fighting the FTC would be “long” and “distracting.” He also says that the FTC requirements ask Apple to do nothing more than what it had planned to do all along.

Team,

I want to let you know that Apple has entered into a consent decree with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. We have been negotiating with the FTC for several months over disclosures about the in-app purchase feature of the App Store, because younger customers have sometimes been able to make purchases without their parents’ consent. I know this announcement will come as a surprise to many of you since Apple has led the industry by making the App Store a safe place for customers of all ages.

From the very beginning, protecting children has been a top priority for the App Store team and everyone at Apple. The store is thoughtfully curated, and we hold app developers to Apple’s own high standards of security, privacy, usefulness and decency, among others. The parental controls in iOS are strong, intuitive and customizable, and we’ve continued to add ways for parents to protect their children. These controls go far beyond the features of other mobile device and OS makers, most of whom don’t even review the apps they sell to children.

When we introduced in-app purchases in 2009, we proactively offered parents a way to disable the function with a single switch. When in-app purchases were enabled and a password was entered to download an app, the App Store allowed purchases for 15 minutes without requiring a password. The 15-minute window had been there since the launch of the App Store in 2008 and was aimed at making the App Store easy to use, but some younger customers discovered that it also allowed them to make in-app purchases without a parent’s approval.

We heard from some customers with children that it was too easy to make in-app purchases, so we moved quickly to make improvements. We even created additional steps in the purchasing process, because these steps are so helpful to parents.

Last year, we set out to refund any in-app purchase which may have been made without a parent’s permission. We wanted to reach every customer who might have been affected, so we sent emails to 28 million App Store customers – anyone who had made an in-app purchase in a game designed for kids. When some emails bounced, we mailed the parents postcards. In all, we received 37,000 claims and we will be reimbursing each one as promised.

A federal judge agreed with our actions as a full settlement and we felt we had made things right for everyone. Then, the FTC got involved and we faced the prospect of a second lawsuit over the very same issue.

It doesn’t feel right for the FTC to sue over a case that had already been settled. To us, it smacked of double jeopardy. However, the consent decree the FTC proposed does not require us to do anything we weren’t already going to do, so we decided to accept it rather than take on a long and distracting legal fight.

The App Store is one of Apple’s most important innovations, and it’s wildly popular with our customers around the world because they know they can trust Apple. You and your coworkers have helped Apple earn that trust, which we value and respect above all else.

Apple is a company full of disruptive ideas and innovative people, who are also committed to upholding the highest moral, legal and ethical standards in everything we do. As I’ve said before, we believe technology can serve humankind’s deepest values and highest aspirations. As Apple continues to grow, there will inevitably be scrutiny and criticism along our journey. We don’t shy away from these kinds of questions, because we are confident in the integrity of our company and our coworkers.

Thank you for the hard work you do to delight our customers, and for showing them at every turn that Apple is worthy of their trust.

Tim

The terms of the arrangement with the FTC involve Apple paying out a minimum of $32.5 million in refunds to users who’ve complained about charges made by their kids via in-app purchase without the necessary approval of their parents, according to the WSJ.

The FTC also requires that Apple now inform parents of the 15-minute window that they incur wherein passwords are not required after their initial entry. So Apple now has to change the way their software works to make it immediately apparent that they are effectively unlocking the account for a 15-minute period when they first enter that password, the idea being that this will prevent the kind of massive accidental charges listed in the complaint.

Apple went the extra mile according to the FTC, agreeing to implement this new warning system for in-app purchases across all types of apps that contain them, even though the scope of the complaint only dealt with software aimed at children specifically, the FTC explained during its press conference.

As part of the settlement, Apple must send out emails to customers who might have been affected by unauthorized charges made by minors, with detailed instructions on how to obtain a refund. That means that if your toddler spent $200K on Smurfberries or whatever, it’s a good idea to start watching your inbox.

Regarding when we might expect to see these changes put in place, the FTC notes that the public has until February 14 to make any comments, at which point the FTC will go forward with delivering a final order to Apple as to compliance with all of the above. Already, there’s a deadline for implementing the notice of the 15-minute window, which must appear in iOS software by March of this year.

Read the original post: Apple Settles With FTC Over App Store In-App Purchases To Avoid “Distracting” Legal Fight

Amazon’s Kindle FreeTime Becomes An Even Better Babysitter, With New Educational Feature That Tells Kids To “Learn First,” Play Later

Kindle FreeTime, Amazon’s parental control software built into its line of Kindle Fire devices, is being upgraded ahead of the holidays with additional educational features that will help the tablet do even more of the parenting on your behalf.

Already capable of setting time limits on things like games and videos, the new FreeTime software is now adding educational goals, which allow parents to block access to Kindle’s more “fun” fare, like cartoons and games, until specific goals are met. These could include time spent reading or, for preschoolers not yet able to read, it could mean only allowing access to parent-approved educational apps.

“We know kids spend a lot of time every day looking at screens, and we’re excited to add new tools that help parents make this time more educational,” explains Peter Larsen, Vice President, Amazon Kindle, in a statement this morning about the updated software. “Parents can use features like ‘Learn First’ to ensure study comes before play and set daily educational goals for reading and learning,” he says.

With “Learn First,” other non-educational content is removed from the child’s FreeTime library, until their goals are met.

To make the new educational goal-setting feature properly work, Amazon categorized all the content in Kindle FreeTime’s curated collection of kid-focused apps, books, games and videos as “educational” or “entertainment,” as well as the top 10,000 most popular kids’ books, videos and apps on Amazon.com.

screen-limits4The subscription-based FreeTime Unlimited collection is also being expanded to include thousands of common core-aligned leveled readers and supplemental readers, most of which will be available for the first time in digital format, notes Amazon. The readers come from publishers like Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Starwalk Kids Media LLC, The Child’s World, Sleeping Bear Press, Lerner Publishing, and Cherry Lake Publishing.

Amazon says hundreds of these titles will arrive by Christmas, with the rest arriving early next year.

Other educational content in this service includes kid-friendly learning apps like Team Umizoomi Math, Super Why!, Stack the States, Curious George at the Zoo, Elmo Loves 123’s, Write the Alphabet, Kids Learn To Read, those from BrainPOP and Agnitus, language learning programs from Little Pim, and more. There are also over 2,000 educational TV shows and movies from providers like Sesame Street, PBS, Reading Rainbow, and BabyFirst TV.

And finally, in another boon to parents, borrowed library books will also soon be available to kids via Kindle FreeTime, says Amazon, and Prime members with access to the Kindle Lending Library will be able to add those books to FreeTime, too.

For Amazon, the move is a larger push not only to sell more tablets to parents over the holidays (naturally), but to better establish the Kindle Fire tablets as those which are better for parents and their children than the competition. In terms of the parental control software, and now the educational goal-setting feature, Amazon is able to make a strong case for this. However, the Apple iPad still has the app collection to beat, with over a million apps worldwide to choose from, 475,000+ of which are made for iPad. Many of the best kids app makers still focus on launching iOS-first, too, which is a challenge Amazon has to overcome.

Apple also recently introduced a Kids’ App Store within iTunes, where content is only permitted if it doesn’t market directly to kids via ads and in-app purchases, making it easier for parents to find the best kids apps on the App Store.

However, parental controls is an area where Apple falls short, which gives Amazon an angle. Although the ability to block iOS’s default apps as well as content (apps, music, video, e.g.) by ratings is built-in, Apple’s iOS doesn’t get anywhere near what Amazon offers in terms of time of day restrictions, time limits or now goal setting, as with FreeTime.

Amazon says the Kindle Fire tablets (Kindle Fire HD, Kindle Fire HDX 7” and Kindle Fire HDX 8.9”) will be updated with the new FreeTime features in the coming weeks.

Original post: Amazon’s Kindle FreeTime Becomes An Even Better Babysitter, With New Educational Feature That Tells Kids To “Learn First,” Play Later

Toymail Is A Cute Talking Toy That Lets Parents Send Messages To Their Kids From An App

Here’s another twist on messaging aiming to make digital comms more fun. Toymail is a Wi-Fi connected toy that lets parents talk remotely to their kids via a smartphone app — with their message spoken in the toy’s tone of voice. Why can’t they just give their kids a cheap phone and call them up? Of course they can, but a phone probably isn’t going to be as cute looking or fun sounding as Toymail’s ‘Mailmen’ toys.

The idea is to inject a little cartoon fun into parent/child digital interactions, and give kids a chance to play with physical toys rather than being sucked into screens and phones so early. (While letting parents carry on their love affair with their smartphones.) There’s a choice of five different Mailmen characters, which have been designed to look like a cross between a mailbox and an animal.

Toymail is not the first cutesy connected object that can remotely convey messages. The now defunct Nabaztag rabbit springs to mind. Toymail’s Mailmen also have some spiritual overlap with The Little Printer — although where that gizmo churns out tiny little rolls of paper inked with messages, the Mailmen’s missives are pure audio.ToymailApp-RecordScreen

Toymail does allow for conversations not just one-way broadcasts, though, since kids can hit a button on the back of their Mailman to reply to the last message received — with the kids’ reply delivered for playback in the app. Only people who have been approved via the app are able to connect to the Mailman, so random strangers aren’t going to be able to send messages.

And if you’ve run out of things to say yourself, there’s a Daily Toymailer service you can sign up for that will send a daily message to the toy, greeting your child by name and singing a song or sharing a factoid or quote.

One half of the Toymail’s creator team, entrepreneur and MIT alumna Gauri Nanda, came up with the cute yet fiendish Clocky: an alarm clock with wheels so it could scoot out of your reach and force you to crawl out of bed to shut it off.

Toymail has taken to Kickstarter to try to raise $60,000 to get Toymail to market. At the time of writing, it’s approaching $10k raised, with 17 days left on the campaign.

And while each Mailman costs $50 to Kickstarter backers, and the iOS app is free (an Android app is planned), there is an ongoing cost associated with use of Toymail. Parents will need to buy virtual books of stamps to send messages to the toys. Each stamp is good for one message, and a book of 50 stamps costs $0.99 — or unlimited stamps are $2.99 per month.

See more here: Toymail Is A Cute Talking Toy That Lets Parents Send Messages To Their Kids From An App

“Fashion Inspiration” For Tots: Lil’Stylers Wants Parents To Snap & Share Their Kids’ Best Looks

Lil’Stylers, a new shopping discovery service launching first on the iPhone, has a different (and maybe unsettling?) take on tracking children’s fashion trends. For those following mobile shopping space, the easiest way to put it is to say it’s a “Pose for kids.” To better explain what that means, Lil’Stylers is an attempt at building a social community around sharing outfits, looks, style ideas, and favorite brands to help inspire parents looking for new ideas in children’s fashion.

The potentially icky part? The unwitting participants in this new community are your own kids.

liliphone1Yes, the idea with Lil’Stylers is to have parents snap and share the photos of their own children, rockin’ the latest in tutus and skinny jeans. On the company’s homepage, it even goes so far as to encourage this activity noting in “step 1″ of Lil’Stylers’ etiquette rules that they prefer a picture of ”kids wearing clothes, rather than clothes on a hanger.”

Say cheese, kiddo, momma wants to earn some style points for having the best-dressed little bugaboo.

Of course, today’s kids have been born into a world of the over-share, where entire social communities have been built up around the concept of doing fun, new things with selfies. (Cough, FrontBack, cough). And I’m not going to lie, my kid’s photos have been around the internet already, on social services like Facebook and Instagram, for example. I also upload our family photos to various cloud services, like Google+ and Flickr, where I might not have always remembered to set the privacy toggle on. I also once used a picture of my kid (as a baby) here on TechCrunch, but I at least had the decency to feel pretty bad about it later.

Despite my seeming hypocrisy then in questioning this kind of service, I’ll point out that largely, my photo-sharing behavior has been about connecting with family and friends. While an occasional tweet might place these photos in the hands of a wider audience, the general motivation is one of connecting with people I know, not strangers. (And tweets are somewhat ephemeral anyway.)

So where exactly is the line between sharing on Facebook with people I know, which turns me into a potentially monetizable user who clicks on ads and makes Facebook money, and sharing my kid’s photos with strangers for the purpose of commerce? It’s a gray area these days, to say the least.

Lil’Stylers founder Eric Dillon also points to today’s photo-sharing trends in justifying the service’s push to have parents photograph, then share the photos of their kids with a larger community for the purpose of fashion inspiration. And when I point out that there will be some parents out there who may find such a thing a bit touchy, he agrees.

“Yes, snapping pics of kids is touchy. However, if you have a look at Pinterest or Instagram, you will find plenty,” Dillon says. “Like every other community, five percent of the users will generate most of the content. Even if the rest is only following, they will still create multiple impressions of a pic, and be consumers.”

liliphone2Ah, so Lil’Stylers will mainly take advantage of the moms (and dads maybe, but honestly, mostly moms) who tend to overexpose their kids anyway? Well, that will fly in the mommy blogger community then. (And, wellyep.) Mommy bloggers have long since positioned themselves as brands’ friends, and many are already working with these companies, so to lean on them for Lil’Stylers curated user-generated content makes sense.

And eventually, assuming the service grew large enough, those mommy bloggers could participate in revenue-sharing agreements with Lil’Stylers, which is today monetizing from affiliate sales.

I should also point out that the app offers a privacy setting which would allow users to only share their children’s photos with a close circle of family and friends. It’s off by default, but it’s at least an option for those on the fence about whether or not they should post.

Outside of these concerns, the app itself is great. It has a clean, modern design, where photos are tagged with the appropriate brand names. Over 100+ kids clothing brands are represented in Lil’Stylers, too, including Desigual Kids, Pale Cloud, Il Gufo, Nununu Kids, and others. Many brands have taken the time to sign up, create profiles and look-books inside the app, and will regularly post their own pictures, says Dillon. You can already shop the brands which have created profiles by tapping on the photo tags’ with the icon of the shopping bag next to them. These takes you to the brand’s profile page where you can follow their own shares, and visit their site.

Though only weeks old, the app has already seen some 17,000 user sessions from its small, but active early adopting community of over 700 parents, who have shared thousands of photos.

Dillon says Lil’Stylers will grow its user base initially by targeting the mommy bloggers as well as other bloggers and influencers, as well as reaching out to more kids’ clothes brands. The company is also in discussions with larger retailers, he adds. And to get its name out there, it’s doing marketing stunts, like this recent kids’ fashion show, for example.

Seattle-based Lil’Stylers is co-founded by longtime software development manager Dillon and Kirti Baliga, whose background is in merchandising. Dillon, a father of two, says that the idea for the company came to him because “where did you buy that?” is a common question parents already ask each other their kid’s clothing. With Lil’Stylers, the hope is to broaden those parent-to-parent recommendations further.

The company is currently bootstrapped, and both founders are working their full-time jobs until month-end. You can download the Lil’Stylers app here in iTunes. Should you? You decide.

See the article here: “Fashion Inspiration” For Tots: Lil’Stylers Wants Parents To Snap & Share Their Kids’ Best Looks

FiLIP, A Smartwatch For Kids, Will Be Home For The Holidays

Just in time for frenzied family trips to the mall — i.e. the holiday season — wearable tech maker Filip Technologies is preparing to take its first product to market, a GPS and mobile-enabled watch that keeps children and their parents in communication. After three years in product development, AT&T has partnered with Filip Technologies as the device’s network provider, distributor, and billing service.

Exact pricing and service plans will be announced in the coming weeks, Filip Technologies CEO Jonathan Peachey said. Although the final retail price on the FiLIP watch has not been set, it will not exceed $200. The monthly voice and data plan will be less than that, Peachey added, the aim being to not burden the average family’s monthly mobile budget.

The colorful two-button watch, worn by the child and hooked up to an app on a parent’s phone, can make and receive calls to the parent. It also uses a combination of GPS, cell tower location, and WiFi triangulation to act as a locator, and there’s an emergency button that begins ambient sound recording and connects the child with emergency services. And although smartwatches are so hot right now, it’s wearable primarily because kids are prone to losing things not attached to their bodies.

green-compressed

The FiLIP watch is aimed at children 11 and younger, given that many parents don’t want to buy their kids a cell phone until they’re a bit older. Although there are GPS devices and phones with limited calling capabilities targeted at children on the market, it’s a diversity of features that Filip Technologies is hoping will set its product apart.

“You need a combination of location and voice,” Peachey said. “I can’t point to a product that does the features we do in a wearable product.”

This summer has marked a few milestones in the development of the product. FiLIP passed its FCC certification in late July, making it the first wearable mobile device with full two-way voice capability to do so. Earlier that month, Peachey joined the Filip team from Virgin Group, where he was the CEO of Virgin Management USA and later an advisor to Sir Richard Branson.

It took about two years of engineering effort to get the product to a place where it could enter FCC testing, Peachey said. During that time the engineering team built a large scale prototype and then spent nine months shrinking it down to the size it is today.

An official drop date isn’t set yet, but the device will land in stores in the next few months.

Filip is the world’s first smart locator and phone for kids – designed to keep families in touch. When Sten Kirkbak lost his 3-year old son Filip for thirty minutes, it inspired the idea for ‘Filip’: a new type of device to keep parents and their young children in touch. After speaking with other parents, it was clear that there was a need for this type of device to help give children the freedom they need to explore and discover,…

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Student Tablet Hardware Melts, District Suspends $30 Million Amplify Program On Safety Concerns

A North Carolina school district has suspended the use of 15,000 tablets after reports of multiple hardware issues, including the device’s charger melting at home. Guilford County Superintendent Maurice “Mo” Green has suspended the $30 million program on safety concerns.

The recall is a major sting for NewsCorp’s Amplify, which released details of its digital-first education initiative back at TechCrunch Disrupt 2012. Directed by former New York City education chancellor, Joel Klein, there are high hopes that Amplify can help bring K-12 education into the 21st century. But, melting tablet accessories aren’t a good sign.

“We recognize that suspending the program on short notice is going to be disruptive to students, staff and parents,” Green Explained. “My decision was made out of an abundance of caution, and I decided to err on the side of safety.”

Apparently, that’s not the only problem. As reported by News & Record,

“Parent Linda Mozell said her daughter and other students at Southeast Middle School had repeated problems connecting to the Internet with their tablets. And even though her daughter got one of the “hard shell” protective cases, that caused its own set of problems, she said. The keyboard’s hard-shell case kept rubbing against the tablet screen in a way that could scar it, she said. In addition, the cord connecting the tablet and keyboard broke easily, the stylus was too big for easy use, and the equipment came home without a user’s manual.”

Amplify has given us a response (pasted in full below) and tells us that the breakage rate of screens is around 3%, which compares to Asus’s industry average, around 2.5%. An Amplify spokesperson says the melting charger is (so far) an isolated incident.

Amplify and Guilford county aren’t the only ones experiencing hiccups with tablet. Los Angeles Unified suspended it’s 1-for-1 iPad program after students hacked through the filters, granting them full-fledged access to the bountiful wonders of the Internet.

Presumably the next round of Amplify’s tablets will not pose a safety risk to children. Amplify’s response is below:

“This week our largest customer, Guilford County Schools, informed us that a tablet charger, which was manufactured by ASUS, was partially melted while charging a student’s tablet at home overnight.

We are working to determine whether the issue was caused by an electrical problem in the student’s home or because of a manufacturing defect.

While the problem occurred with only one of the more than 500,000 chargers of this kind that ASUS has manufactured and distributed across the world, one instance is too many in our opinion. Nothing comes before the safety of our students, teachers and their families.

Out of an abundance of caution, we are requesting that Amplify Tablet customers cease all further use of the ASUS charger until we can determine the cause of the single reported malfunction in Guilford County, North Carolina.”

Read the original post: Student Tablet Hardware Melts, District Suspends $30 Million Amplify Program On Safety Concerns

Meet Piena, A Hassle-Free Baby Formula Maker Developed By Two Ex-Samsung Engineers

Any parent who has used powder formula to feed your baby knows that measuring the formula, making sure the water is clean and at room temperature, and mixing the formula and water is a challenging task. Especially when it is 3 am, and you have a hungry, screaming baby in your arms. Piena is a new gadget that basically takes some of the hassle out of mixing baby formula.

Developed by a husband and wife team who were both former engineers at Samsung; Piena is a freestanding formula mixer and water purifier. As one blogger writes, it’s the Keurig of formula mixing.

The mixer itself looks a lot like a coffee maker–you simple plug it into an outlet. There are separate compartments for water and for the formula. You can put up to 24 oz of formula into the container and the patented freshness seal guarantees the powder stays fresh and dry up to 4 weeks. You can then fill the water reservoir with up to 8 oz of water. And you place the bottle under the dispenser.

When you hit the on button, the water will come to a boil within 60 seconds, and then the water is cooled to near body temperature and automatically dispensed into the bottle. The water sterilization process is a concern for some parents (the World Health Organization does advise parents to boil water). If you live in an area where your water is relatively safe and clean, then you don’t really have to be concerned about the quality of the water. But in many areas of the world, water isn’t clean and this 60-second water purification process that Piena provides could be particularly useful to parents.

After the sterilization water is dispensed into the bottle, you turn the wheel on the formula reservoir to dispense the right amount of baby formula powder into the bottle. One wheel turn equals 2 oz of formula, we’re told.

While the gadget itself doesn’t provide completely hands free formula mixing, it does make the entire process that much easier, especially when it comes to sterilizing water. And all of the parts are dishwasher safe for easy cleaning.

In terms of the competition there are many hand held mixers on the market, and a few high-powered mixers similar to Piena, but the Piena promises complete water sterilization and cooling down in one.

While I think the gadget could save sleep-deprived parents some time and energy, my biggest complaint with Piena is its price. Right now Piena, which is still in production mode, is retailing for around $150 on Indiegogo. For parents who spend hundreds of dollars on strollers, swings and more, that price may not be as steep, but for most of the world $150 is a stretch. I see the this gadget as being incredibly useful to international markets where water quality is a real concern. Compounded with the high cost of formula, the cost of the Piena may disqualify many of the parents who need the mixer the most.

While Piena, which is part of Strong Ventures’ incubator, is only available in Indiegogo for now, the company is currently in talks with retailers to include in stores and online.

View original post here: Meet Piena, A Hassle-Free Baby Formula Maker Developed By Two Ex-Samsung Engineers