Smartphones are becoming ubiquitous, and not just for adults; as many as 75 percent of kids in the U.S. aged 2-13 regularly have access to smartphones, according to a recent study. That growing demographic of mobile device users is resulting in a lot of attention from startups, among them Safely, a division of Location Labs which deals specifically in mobile location safety features, and is now introducing kid-targeted parental controls formally in partnership with Sprint.
Three months following its soft launch of the Sprint-branded version of its Safety Phone Controls on Android, the company has seen 3.5 million alerts pass through its subscription-based services, telling parents about activity on their children’s phones. Another similar product, Kyte, made big waves last week at Y Combinator’s Demo Day. Location Labs CEO and founder Tasso Roumeliotis told us that despite the hype, he believes what his company offers is really more useful in practice to parents.
“The reason we work so closely with carriers ia that carriers are very active in families, in that 65 percent of their subscribers are on family plans,” he said. “So if you’re a Sprint or you’re an AT&T, and two-thirds of your subscribers are on these multi-line accounts, it’s in your strategic best interest to get them to sign up for services that connect families, because that reduces churn and you can charge them more for some of these services like they’re doing for ours.”
Sprint Mobile Controls, the product offered by Safely, also uses tech pre-installed on a kid’s phone, and has access to carrier-only APIs, which mean that it’s in a better position to regulate access to functions and features than an after-market app downloaded by a user, according to Roumeliotis.
Another advantage Roumeliotis sees his product as having over competing products available via Google Play is in distribution. “You walk into a Sprint store, and you buy three phones for your family, and they say ‘Hey, did you want protection with that?’,” he said.” It’s just like they sell phone insurance, and it’ll also include mobile device management [like the kind Safely provides].”
Safely’s product, which, like Kyte, provides feature locks, parental controls and location tracking for Android devices, may have the advantage of carrier backing and deeper system access, but Kyte has the advantage of being free, whereas Sprint Mobile Controls will cost users $4.99 per month in subscription fees, of which Safely receives an undisclosed cut.
Doubtless, people will want to achieve greater control over how, when and for what purpose their kids are using cell phones as they permeate even further in terms of general adoption, and ultimately there’s probably room for a number of different approaches to this problem. Still, it’ll be interesting to see whether Safely’s co-branded solutions or Kyte’s flashier, user-focused approach ends up gaining more ground.