Kytephone is an Android app that aims to restrict use of the mobile phone so that is safe and appropriate for young children. Kytephone claims by using it parents can have closely control how their child uses the phone.
I spent some time with the app one afternoon and also asked some members of the team at aNewDomain.net to check it out. Our own Sandy Berger even offered me some feedback, which was great as I didn’t have any children to test with, and she did. Everyone was intrigued at the premise, but does it hold up?
Kytephone is Simple to Setup
Installation of Kytephone is very simple and the app is small, just over 1 MB. I was impressed by how smooth the process went, but Sandy commented, “They didn’t tell me that I needed to validate my email address before I could use it.” This is easily fixed and is the only gap in such a simple setup process.
When you start the app, it offers you only two icons — apps and phone. As I hadn’t set anything up, I had no one I could call nor any apps I could start. Exiting the app requires the account password, so children can’t exit without permission. From within Kyte, I wasn’t able to access the recently used program list on my Droid X running Gingerbread. This was a good sign — I was initially concerned that the developer wouldn’t consider all the possibilities a child would try to break out from the restrictions. Being naturally curious, I powered off the phone while Kyte was running, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was automatically running when the phone powered on. Someone clearly thought through the way a child would think when designing this.
The parent controls everything from a web application, giving them access to the phone even when the child is away. When using the dashboard in the web interface, I was able to see a Google Map with the phone’s current GPS position. You can track where my child is at any time. Very handy.
Adding a contact was easy, and it took just seconds to do so in the web interface. I liked that I could have a bank of contacts that I could create but not necessarily give access to at that time. This would allow me to customize the phone for a child for that day or week. I do wish I could import contacts from the phone itself, though.
Adding apps worked in the way that I had thought it should — it queries the phone and gives you a list of the available apps. You then select each app that you want to show on the phone. In this example I enabled Google Maps, Google Search and Kindle. The apps were available on my phone immediately.
And that’s it. The beauty of this product is its simplicity, and it’s something that, were the interface a bit less childish, adults might get behind. It could also be a good compromise for teenagers and their phone usage, but the UI would need to be less childish. I can see how this could be used for company-owned phones, too.
Sandy reported that the kids (ages 7 and 9) who used Kytephone liked it. From the parent’s perspective, “The ability to add certain numbers and only have the kids able to call and receive calls for that number is great. The phones activity list shows you everything the child does. The map shows you their location reported every 15 minutes. ”
Features to Add
The last feature I find myself looking for is one that has time restrictions, whether it is just to prevent apps from running at 2 a.m. for an all-night Angry Birds session. You could easily take the phone away from a child, but what if they’re sleeping over at a friend’s but you still want them to be able to call? I would like a more robust feature where I could set daily allowances for time usage by app and keep the phone feature on as needed, say at the sleepover. That would restrict games without eliminating them altogether and keeping the phone available when it needs to be. For now, I suppose I could enable and disable them from the dashboard without much trouble.
It would also be nice to see an interface that was more generic or customizable, as I can see parents wanting to restrict their older children with something like Kytephone. The interface as it is, though, is far too childish to get a teenager or even an adolescent to buy in.
If I had children, a system like Kytephone would make me much more comfortable with allowing them to use a phone. The program seems smooth enough and it was very efficiently designed. You can’t beat the price (free), so it’s worth giving it a try.
Screenshots: Jeremy Lesniak