Hands on with the Echo Dots Kids Edition

Hands on with the Echo Dots Kids Edition
Earlier this year, Amazon introduced an Echo Dot for kids, with its $80 Echo Dot Kids Edition device, which comes in your choice of a red, blue, or green protective case. The idea is to market a version of Amazon’s existing Dot hardware to families by bundling it with an existing subscription service, and by throwing in a few extra features – like having Alexa encourage kids to say “please” when making their demands, for example.
The device makes sense in a couple of scenarios – for helicopter parents who want to fully lock down an Echo device before putting it in a kid’s room, and for those who were in the market for a FreeTime Unlimited subscription anyway.
I’ve been testing out an Echo Dot Kids Edition, and ran into some challenges which I thought I’d share. This is not a hardware review – I’m sure you can find those elsewhere. 
Music Filtering
As a parent of an 8-year old myself, I’ve realized it’s too difficult to keep her from ever hearing bad words – especially in music, TV and movies – so I’ve just explained to her that while she will sometimes hear those words, that doesn’t mean it’s okay to say them. (We have a similar rule about art – sometimes people will be nude in paintings, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to walk around naked all the time.)
Surprisingly, I’ve been able to establish a level of shame around adult and inappropriate content to the point that she will confess to me when she hears it on places like YouTube. She will even turn it off without my instruction! I have a good kid, I guess.

But I understand some parents will only want kids to access the sanitized version of songs – especially if their children are still in the preschool years, or have a tendency to seek out explicit content because they’re little monsters.
Amazon FreeTime would be a good option in that case, but there are some caveats.
For starters, if you plan on using the explicit language filter on songs the Echo Dot plays, then you’re stuck with Amazon Music. While the Echo Dot itself can play music from a variety of services, including on-demand offerings from Pandora and Spotify, you can’t use these services when the explicit filter is enabled as “music services that do not support this filter will be blocked,” Amazon explains.
We’re a Spotify household, so that means my child’s favorite bedtime music playlist became unavailable when we swapped out her existing Echo Dot for the Kids Edition which had the explicit filter enabled.

Above: Parent Dashboard? Where? Maybe a link would help?
You can disable the explicit filter from the Parent Dashboard, but this option is inconveniently available just via the web. When you dig around in the Alexa app – which is where you’d think these controls would be found, there’s only a FreeTime On/Off toggle switch and instructions to “Go to the Parent Dashboard to see activity, manage time limits, and add content.”
It’s not even hyperlinked!
You have to just know the dashboard’s URL is parents.amazon.com. (And not www.parents.amazon.com, by the way. That doesn’t work.)
Then to actually disable the filter, it’s several more steps.

You’ll click the gear icon next to the child’s name, click on “Echo Dot Kids Edition” under “Alexa Settings,” then click “Manage Music.” Here, you can turn the switch on or off.
If you don’t have a subscription music service, the Echo Dot Kids Edition also ships with access to ad-free kid-safe stations on iHeartRadio Family.
Whitelisting Alexa skills…well, some skills!
Another issue with the way FreeTime works with Alexa, is that it’s not clear that nearly everything your child accesses on the device has to be whitelisted.
This leads to a confusing first-time user workflow.
Likely, you’ll start by browsing in the Alexa app’s Skills section or the Skills Store on the web to find some appropriate kid-friendly skills for your child to try. For example, I found and enabled a skill called “Math Facts – Math Practice for Kids.”
But when I instructed “Alexa, open Math Facts,” she responded, “I can’t do that.”
She didn’t say why.
As I hadn’t used FreeTime in quite a while, it didn’t occur to me that each Alexa skill would have to be toggled on – just like the third-party apps, videos, books and audiobooks the child has access to that didn’t ship with FreeTime Unlimited itself.
Instead, I mistakenly assumed that skills from the “Kids” section of the Skills store would just work.
Again, you’ll have to know to go to parents.amazon.com to toggle things on.
And again, the process for doing so is too many clicks deep in the user interface to be immediately obvious to newcomers. (You click the gear by the kid’s name, then “Add Content” – not “Echo Dot Kids Edition” as you might think! Then, on the “Add Content” screen, click over to the “Alexa Skills” tab and toggle on the skills you want the child to use.)

The issue with this system is that it prevents Echo Dot Kids Edition users – kids and adults alike – from discovering and enabling skills by voice. And it adds an unnecessary step by forcing parents to toggle skills on.
After all, if the parents are the ones signing in when visiting the Skills store in-app or on the web, that means they’re the ones choosing to enable the Skills, too.
And if they’re enabling a skill from Kids section, one would assume it’s for their kids to use on their device!
The problem, largely, is that FreeTime isn’t really integrated with the Alexa app. All of this – from explicit content filters to whitelisting skills to turning on or off calling, messaging and drop-ins – should be managed from within the Alexa app, not from a separate website.
Amazon obviously did minimal integration work in order to sell parents a pricier Echo Dot.

To make matters more confusing is the fact that Amazon has partnered with some kids skill publishers, similar to how it partnered with other content providers for apps and movies. That means there’s a list of skills that don’t appear in your Parent Dashboard that also don’t require whitelisting.
This includes: Disney Stories, Loud House Challenge, No Way That’s True, Funny Fill In, Spongebob Challenge, Weird but True, Name that Animal, This or That, Word world, Ben ten, Classroom thirteen, Batman Adventures, and Climb the Beanstalk.
But it’s confusing that you can immediately use these skills, and not others clearly meant for kids. You end up feeling like you did something wrong when some skills don’t work, before you figure out this whole whitelisting system.
In addition, it’s not clear that these “Premium” skills come with the FreeTime subscription – most are not available in the Skills store. If your FreeTime subscription expires, it seems you’ll lose access to these, as well.
Overall, the FreeTime experience for Echo feels disjointed, and there’s a steep learning curve for new users.

Your FreeTime Unlimited 1-year Subscription
It’s also frustrating that there’s no information on the FreeTime Parents dashboard about the nature of your subscription.
You can’t confirm that you’re currently subscribed to the paid product known as FreeTime Unlimited. You can’t see when that subscription expires, or when your first free year is up. It’s unclear if you’ll just be charged, or when that will take place. And there’s no toggle to turn the subscription off if you decide you no longer need it.
Instead, you can only “modify” which credit card you use with Amazon’s 1-click. Seriously. That’s it.

Above: want to manage your subscription?
Below: hahaha, good luck with that!

I still don’t know where to turn this subscription off – I guess the option to disable it doesn’t even appear until your free year is up? (Even clicking on “FreeTime Unlimited” from Amazon.com’s subscription management page routes you back to this useless Parent dashboard page for managing your 1-Click settings.)
So, ask me in a year, maybe?
That said, if you are in the market for both a FreeTime Unlimited subscription and an Echo Dot, you may as well buy the Kids Edition.
FreeTime Unlimited works on Fire tablets, Android devices, Kindle, and as of this month, iOS devices, providing access to over 15,000 kid-safe apps, games, videos, books and educational content. On Amazon devices, parents can also set screen time limits and educational goals.
The service by itself is $2.99 per month for Prime members (for one profile) or $4.99 per month for non-members. It’s more if you buy the Family subscription. Meanwhile, the regular 2nd gen Echo Dot is currently $49.99. So you’re basically looking at $50 + $36/year for FreeTime Unlimited if you bought these things separately as a Prime member.
The Echo Dot Kids Edition comes with one year of FreeTime Unlimited and is $79.99. So you’re saving a tiny bit there. Plus, you can always turn FreeTime off on the device, if you’d rather just use the kids Echo Dot as a regular Echo Dot – while still getting a free year of FreeTime for another device, like the kid’s iPad.
Still, watch out because Echo Dot often goes on sale – and probably will be on sale again for Prime Day this summer. Depending on the price cut it gets, it may not be worth it to buy the bundle.

Other Perks
There are other perks that Amazon tries to use to sell the Echo Dot Kids Edition to families, but the most notable is “Magic Word.”
This feature turns on when FreeTime is enabled, and thanks kids for saying “please” when they speak to Alexa. Yes, that seems like a small thing but it was something that a lot of parents were upset about. They thought kids were learning bad manners by barking commands at Alexa.
I don’t know about that. My kid seems to understand that we say “please” and “thank you” to people, but Alexa doesn’t get her feelings hurt by being told to “play Taylor Swift.” But to each their own!
This feature will thrill some parents, I’m sure.
Parents can also use FreeTime to pause the device or configure a bedtime so kids don’t stay up talking to Alexa, but honestly, LET ‘EM.

It’s far better than when they stall bedtime by badgering you for that extra glass of water, one more blanket, turn on that light, now crack the door…a little more…a little less…Honestly, escaping the kid’s room at bedtime is an art form.
If Alexa can keep them busy and less afraid of the dark, I’m calling it a win.
FreeTime with the Echo Dot Kids Edition also lets you set up “Character Alarms” – meaning, kids can configure Alexa to wake them up with an alarm click featuring characters from brands like Disney and Nickelodeon.

This is hilarious to me.
Because if you have a kid in the preschool to tween age range who actually requires an alarm clock to wake up in the morning instead of getting up at the crack of dawn (or maybe one who has gone through years of training so they DON’T ALSO WAKE YOU UP AT THE CRACK OF DAWN OH MY GOD) – then, I guess, um, enjoy character alarms?
I’m sorry, let me stop laughing….Hold on.
I’m sure somebody needs this.
Sorry for laughing. But please explain how you’ve taught your children to sleep in? Do they go to bed at a decent hour too? No seriously, email me. I have no idea.
The Echo Dot Kids Edition can also work as a household intercom, but so do regular Echo devices.
You can turn off voice purchasing on the Kids Edition, but you can do that on regular devices, too (despite what Amazon’s comparison chart says.)
Plus, kids can now control smart home devices with the Echo Dot Kids Edition – a feature that shamefully wasn’t available at launch, but is now.
And that cute protective case? Well, a regular Echo Dot is actually pretty sturdy. We’ve dropped ours probably a dozen times from dresser to floor (uncarpeted!) with no issues.
I like how Amazon tries to sell the case, though:

I guess if your kid plans to do CHEMISTRY EXPERIMENTS by the Echo Dot, you may need this.
In reality, the case is just cute – and can help the Echo better match the kid’s room.
The Echo Kids Edition, overall, is not a must-have device. You’ll have more flexibility with a regular Echo and a little old-school parenting.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Winnie raises $4 million to make parents’ lives easier

Winnie raises million to make parents’ lives easier

An app that has the needs of modern-day parents in mind, Winnie, has now raised $4 million in additional seed funding in a round led by Reach Capital. Other investors in the new round include Rethink Impact, Homebrew, Ludlow Ventures, Afore Capital, and BBG Ventures, among others. With the new funds, Winnie has raised $6.5 million to date.

The San Francisco-based startup, which begun its life as a directory of kid-friendly places largely serving the needs of newer parents, has since expanded to become a larger platform for parents.

Winnie was founded by Bay Area technologists, Sara Mauskopf, who spent time at Postmates, Twitter, YouTube and Google, and Anne Halsall, also from Postmates and Google, as well as Quora and Inkling.

As new parents themselves, they built Winnie out a personal need to find the sort of information parents crave – details you can’t easily dig up in Google Maps or Yelp.

For example, you can use Winnie to find nearby kid-friendly destinations like museums or parks, as well as those that welcome children with features like changing tables in restrooms, wide aisles in stores for stroller access, areas for nursing, and other things.

Winnie serves as a good example of what investing in women can achieve. Somehow, the young, 20-something men that receive the lion’s share of VC funding had never thought up the idea of app that helps new parents navigate the world. (I know, shocking, right?) And yet, the kind of questions that Winnie tries to answer are those that all parents, at some point, are curious about.

The data on Winnie is crowd-sourced, with details, ratings and reviews coming from other real parents. Listings in San Francisco may be more fleshed out than elsewhere, as that’s where Winnie got its start. However, the app is now available in 10,000 cities across the U.S., and has just surpassed over a million users.

In more recent months, Winnie has been working to expand beyond being a sort of “Yelp for parents,” and now features an online community where parents can ask questions and participate in discussions.

“The crowdsourced directory of family-friendly businesses is still a huge component of what we do…and this has grown to over 2 million places across the United States,” notes Winnie co-founder and CEO Sara Mauskopf. “But we also have these real-time answers to any parenting question from this authentic, supportive community,” she says, referring to Winnie’s online discussions.

The idea is that parents will be searching the web for answers to questions about toddler sleep issues or good local preschools or breastfeeding help, and Winnie’s answers will come up in search results, similar to other Q&A sites like Quora or Yahoo Answers.

“A lot of younger millennial parents are turning to Google to find answers to these questions,” adds Winnie co-founder and CPO Anne Halsall. “So we want to have the answer to these questions at the ready, and we want to have the best page. That’s an example of something that’s yield a lot of traffic for us, just because no one else had that data before Winnie,” she says.

Related to this expansion, Winnie is also serving this data across platforms, including – obviously – the web, in addition to its native app on iOS and Android. The hope is that, with the growth, business owners will come in to claim their pages on Winnie.com, too, and update their information.

In the near-term, the founders say they’ll put the funding to use building out more personalization features.

“As a technology company, we have a unique opportunity to give you this really tailored experience that grows with your family over time – so as your children are getting older, and you’re entering new phases of development, our product’s adapting and putting relevant information in front of you,” Halsall says. 

Data on businesses serving the needs of parents with older kids – like summer camps or driver’s ed classes, for example – are the kind of things Winnie will focus on as it grows to include information for more parents, instead of just those with younger children and babies.

Winnie will also use the funds to hire additional engineers to help it scale its platform.

Esteban Sosnik from Reach Capital joined Hunter Walk from Homebrew on Winnie’s board as a result of the funding.

The app is a free download for iOS and Android, and is available on the web at Winnie.com.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Jiobit launches its more secure, modular child location tracker starting at $100

Jiobit launches its more secure, modular child location tracker starting at 0
To date, child location trackers have failed to live up to consumer expectations. They’ve arrived as oversized, bulky watches too large for little wrists, and some have even been designed so insecurely, that it would be safer to not use them at all. A new kid tracker from Jiobit, launching today, wants to address these problems by offering a fully encrypted location tracker with a more modular form factor that makes better sense for small children.
The Chicago-based startup was started by a father – Jiobit’s co-founder and CEO John Renaldi  – after he experienced firsthand the terror of losing track of his then six-year old son at a local park.
“I was a Vice President of Product at Motorola, and was out on a family trip to downtown Chicago with my son, daughter, my wife,” Renaldi explains. The family was at Maggie Daley park when it happened. “Before I knew it – I can’t tell you how I got distracted – but in a sea of other children, I lost track of my son for 30 minutes,” he says.
The child eventually found his parents – he hadn’t wandered off at all, but was having a grand ol’ time playing and didn’t even know he was “lost.”
But the incident led Renaldi to try every sort of tracking product on the market. And he came back disappointed.

“I looked into all these products and they were all storing their certificate keys in the clear. They all were hackable. And I’m just sitting here looking at this thinking, ‘oh my god.’ If someone just spent a little bit of time they could completely intercept all this communication,” Renaldi says.
So he decided the solution was to build a kid tracker himself.
The startup raised seed funding, and brought on co-founder and CTO Roger Ady, previously a director of engineering at Motorola. It went through TechStars in 2016, and raised a little over $3 million at the end of the program. To date, it’s raised $6 million since its founding in 2015.
The team played around with different designs, but decided against a wristwatch for a variety of reasons – including not only the bulk of the device, but because some schools banned them as classroom distractions.

The Jiobit tracker launching today is small (37mm x 50mm x 12mm) and lightweight (18g or less than 4 quarter coins), and can be worn in many different ways. It comes with a built-in loop attachment for attaching the device to shoelaces, drawstrings, or if it’s being placed in a pocket.
Another attachment, the secure loop, lets you attach it to belt loops, shirt tag loops, or buttonholes.

Although the secure loop is more challenging to attach and remove, from personal experience, I’d recommend this option as the child can’t remove it.
(My Jiobit disappeared one day at school, because it was not secured – and now that it’s offline, it’s just gone forever since the school can’t find it.)
However, in my brief time with the device and app, I thought it was better designed in terms of setup and usage than others I’d tried in the past.

Unfortunately, Jiobit doesn’t have an insurance program for lost or stolen devices – only an accidental damage warranty. So I’d suggest not making my mistake, given the cost.
The Jiobit starts at $99.99 for the device with a year contract, or is $149.99 for a non-contract device with the option of a commitment-free $7.99 per month plan.
It ships with its accessories, cable, and charging dock. More accessories, including colorful covers and other attachments, are in the works.
To locate the child, the Jiobit utilizes a combination of Bluetooth and GPS.
If the child is beyond BLE range – like around your backyard, perhaps, you can switch over to a Live Mode in the app to see their GPS location as a dot. The accuracy of this system is about as accurate as GPS is in a mapping or navigation app. 
Parents can also use the Jiobit app to set up a geofence around specific locations, like home or school, in order to receive check-in alerts when the child leaves or arrives. They can also add other family members, trusted friends, nannies, etc. to a “Care Team” in the app to give those people access to the child’s location.
The company has taken pains to secure the location data that’s stored, says Renaldi, which is a differentiating factor for this company’s solution.
“Everything stored at rest – both on the cloud and on device – is encrypted,” he explains. “Any local data, as well as the encryption keys that are used to transmit the data, are all in a tamper-proof piece of silicon on the device that’s akin to what’s in your iPhone that stores your payment keys for your credit cards. That secure element – that same architecture – is used for us,” Renaldi continues.
That means that no one can get to the keys, even they gained physical access to the device.
“That’s a first in the industry for location tracking products,” Renaldi notes. 
The data is also secured in transit over Wi-Fi, cellular and Bluetooth, as the Jiobit is assigned a unique key – an authentication token – that allows the company to protect the data moving between the device itself and Amazon’s IoT cloud. (More on this here.)

Despite all these protections, one thing that worried me was that there was a history of my child’s exact GPS coordinates being stored – indefinitely – in the cloud. The company says it will soon launch a feature that allows parents an option to save their device’s location history, so it doesn’t want to purge these records for now.
But if you don’t want to save the child’s location history beyond the past few days, you currently have to ask the company to delete your files. (There are only two people at Jiobit who can even look at the GPS history, when the customer requests it.)
Jiobit said its beta testers asked for historical data, which it why it made this decision.
But that seems crazy to me – most parents I know err on the side of being almost overly paranoid when it comes to protecting their kids’ data. I can’t imagine that most would want location data stored forever anywhere, no matter how securely. My guess is that some parents were using the “child tracker” as a “nanny tracker.”

At the end of the day, there’s a certain kind of parent who will buy a kid tracker. It’s someone who wants their kids to have the kind of freedom they remember having from their own childhood  – where parents didn’t hover quite as much as they do today. But they want a little added security.
Selling to this market is challenging however, because a lot of this consumer demand is often just talk. “Oh, I wish I had a kid tracker!” says the mom or dad trotting around behind their child all day. In practice, it’s actually hard to stop helicoptering the kid in a society where this has become the norm, and there’s social pressure to do the same.
There’s also a limited span of years where this device makes sense. Ever younger kids are getting smartphones these days. (You can convert Jiobit to a pet tracker at that point, I suppose.)
Fortunately, the company is planning a future beyond kid tracking. It’s partnering with airlines, businesses, and even government agencies who want to use its location technology in a variety of ways beyond tracking people. NDAs prevent Jiobit from discussing the particulars of these discussions and deals, but it sounds like there’s a Plan B in the works if the kid trackers don’t sell.
In the meantime, parents can buy the Jiobit here, starting today.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Amazon’s new ‘Alexa Blueprints’ let anyone create custom Alexa skills and responses

Amazon’s new ‘Alexa Blueprints’ let anyone create custom Alexa skills and responses
Amazon this morning is introducing “Alexa Blueprints,” a new way for any Alexa owner to create their own customized Alexa skills or responses, without needing to know how to code. The idea is to allow Alexa owners to create their own voice apps, like a trivia game or bedtime stories, or teach Alexa to respond to questions with answers they design – like “Who’s the best mom in the world?,” for example.
You could also create a skill that includes helpful information for the babysitter, which could be triggered by the command, “Alexa, open My Sitter,” Amazon suggests.
“Alexa Skill Blueprints is an entirely new way for you to teach Alexa personalized skills just for you and your family,” explained Steve Rabuchin, Vice President, Amazon Alexa, in a statement about the launch. “You don’t need experience building skills or coding to get started—my family created our own jokes skill in a matter of minutes, and it’s been a blast to interact with Alexa in a totally new and personal way.”

To build your own skill or custom Alexa response, users will visit the website blueprints.amazon.com and select a template.
At launch, there are over 20 templates across categories like Fun & Games, At Home, Storyteller, and Learning & Knowledge.
The templates are designed so you can just fill in the bits and pieces that make them personalized to your needs. You won’t need to go through a series of complicated steps, and no technical knowledge is required. The templates are even pre-filled and work as is, if you just want to try them out before making your own.

After you’ve filled in your own content, you name it and publish with a click. This makes the skill or response available to all Alexa-enabled devices associated with your own Amazon account. But it’s not available to the public or the Alexa Skills Store.
Families with Echo devices, in particular, seem to be a heavy focus for Alexa Blueprints. Kids have readily taken to Alexa, and today there are nearly 500 public Alexa skills built for kids alone. Families also often have private jokes and bedtime rituals where Alexa could come in – offering to “tell a Dad joke” or “start Anna’s story,” for instance. Plus, Alexa is designed as a home companion – controlling smart devices, playing music, setting timers, and offering information like news and weather, among other things.

But families aren’t the only ones would could take advantage of Alexa Blueprints. College students could use the flash cards custom skill when studying, while a group of friends or roommates could design their own trivia games. And Airbnb owners could set up a skill for their houseguests.
After you’ve created the custom skill, it will be available in the Skills You’ve Made webpage on the Blueprints site. You’ll also be able to enable, disable and delete your skills.
The feature could give Amazon an edge in selling its Echo speakers to consumers, as it’s now the only platform offering this level of customization – Apple’s HomePod is really designed for music lovers, and doesn’t support third-party apps. Google Home also doesn’t offer this type of customization.
All three are competing to be the voice assistant people use in their home, but Alexa so far is leading by a wide margin – it still has roughly 70 percent of the smart speaker market.
Alexa Blueprints are available today in the U.S. only.
The full list of Alexa Blueprints available at launch is below:
At Home

Custom Q&A: Customize responses to your questions
Houseguest: Make your guests feel at home with quick access to important info
Babysitter: Help your sitter find things, remember steps and get important info
Pet Sitter: Help your pet sitter care for your favorite animal

Fun & Games

Family Jokes: Create a list of your favorite jokes for when you need a laugh
Trivia: Create your own multiple choice trivia game on any topic
Inspirations: Curate a list of your favorite inspirational quotes
Family Trivia: Play together and brush up on family history
Bachelorette Party: Play to find out how well the bride’s friends know her
Birthday Trivia: Play to see who knows the birthday girl or boy best
Burns: Roast your friends and family with lighthearted burns
Compliments: Flatter your favorites with a list of custom compliments
Double Trouble: Find out which couple knows each other best with this customizable game
First Letter: Play a game of categories starting with a certain letter

Storyteller

Adventure: Write an adventure story where your child is the hero
Fairy Tale: Customize an interactive prince and princess-themed tale
Sci-Fi: Create an interactive story with a far-out theme
Fable: Create a short narrative with a moral of the story

Learning & Knowledge

Flash Cards: Study, test yourself, and master any subject by voice
Facts: Keep a list of facts on your favorite topic, all in one place
Quiz: Challenge yourself and others with a customizable quiz

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch