Amazon FreeTime Unlimited finally lands on Apple’s App Store

Five and half years after it launched, one of the more popular apps for kids’ reading and entertainment has finally arrived on the iOS. Amazon FreeTime Unlimited, the e-commerce giant’s subscription service for children 3-12 that gives unlimited access to 10,000 books, movies and TV shows for $2.99 per month for up to four users across tablets, phones, e-readers, and smart speakers, is now available on the App Store.

Apple is promoting the new app at the moment on the home page of the App Store, where a reader saw it and flagged it to us.

“We launch new products and features as they’re ready,” an Amazon spokesperson said. “We’re excited to bring theFreeTime Unlimited experience to iOS devices, including iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.”

FreeTime Unlimited is already available on Amazon devices and on Android. Now, when users sign up for a subscription on any one platform, they can use it across all of them — whether it be a Fire tablet, a Fire Kids Edition tablet, compatible Android phones and tablets, or compatible Echo devices.

The move is a significant one both for Apple and Amazon. At a time when other media companies are launching kid-friendly versions of their services that bring in more parental controls and better filters to help block out content that is inappropriate for young ones, FreeTime Unlimited has proven to be one of the most popular kids-focused entertainment apps of them all — content includes video from Disney, Nickelodeon, Sesame Street, PBS Kids, National Geographic and Amazon Originals for Kids — and yet it wasn’t available on one of the most popular (and well reviewed) tablets used by children.

While Amazon initially kept it as an Amazon-only product for its early years — as a way of driving more sales to its own hardware — last year it finally launched a version for Android devices, but it’s taken over a year more to finally bring it to iPhone and iPad devices.

One of the reasons for this could be the ongoing struggle between Amazon and Apple. In some regards, the two are complementary companies: Amazon ships a lot of Apple products, and iOS is a very strong platform for Amazon in terms of online sales, for example.

But in others — such as in hardware, increasingly online entertainment and “owning” customers, and for talent to build its products — the two are rivals. Apple, for one, has not allowed apps on its iOS platform to enable Amazon book purchases directly from their apps, and Amazon doesn’t sell books and movies from its own app to avoid Apple’s cut. So it’s not surprising to see Amazon also delay certain content and features from the Apple platform in some kind of tit-for-tat.

I’m guessing those skirmishes will go on for a long time to come, but for now, iPad and iPhone users will have a little more Amazon than they did before on their devices. Why now? It could be that Amazon felt that user growth was tailing off on the other platforms, so now is a good time to boost with new availability.

It’s also likely influenced by Apple’s increased attention to parental control features on iOS, which may have some parents feel like they have enough options to lock down their kids’ devices while still allowing them access to more wholesome and educational content. That could limit the appeal for a subscription service like Amazon’s FreeTime Unlimited. But iOS 12 – which includes the new parental controls – doesn’t launch to the public until later this fall. That gives Amazon time to attract users to its own service in the meantime.

As with the existing version of FreeTime Unlimited, the app is divided into age groups and will have parental controls by way of the Amazon Parent Dashboard, as well as Discussion Cards that give them talking points about the work and summaries of what the kids are watching.

 

There may be variations based on geographies, but in the US the content will include films like Frozen, Moana, Star Wars, and Inside Out; TV shows like Sesame Street, Arthur, and Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood from PBS; Bubble Guppies, Team Umizoomi, and Dora the Explorer from Nickelodeon; Marvel comics including Spider-man, the Avengers, and Captain America; and Amazon Originals such as Just Add Magic, The Kicks, Thunderbirds are Go, Creative Galaxy, and Tumble Leaf.

One drawback to the iOS implementation of FreeTime Unlimited is that, unlike on Amazon’s own tablets, you can’t configure FreeTime Unlimited to completely reskin the device’s user interface to keep kids locked into the experience. Apple simply doesn’t allow third-party apps to have that level of control. Instead, FreeTime Unlimited works like any other app – you can launch it and exit at any time.

As with other apps, subscribing to FreeTime Unlimited will come via a user’s iTunes account (and thus Apple will get a cut) and will get automatically renewed until you turn off the auto-renewal 24 hours before the renewal date. There is also a free 30-day trial.

 

Roblox follows Minecraft into the education market

Roblox, the massively multiplayer online game favored by the under 13 crowd, is following in Minecraft’s footsteps with a move into the education market. The company this morning announced a new education initiative, Roblox Education, that will offer a free curriculum to educators, along with international summer coding camps, and a free online “Creator Challenge” in partnership with Universal Brand Development, which will see kids building Roblox games inspired by Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. 

The gaming company has been around for many years, but only recently reached a critical mass where it was ready to talk about its numbers. Today, Roblox sees over 60 million monthly active users, and its creator community building new worlds for kids to explore has doubled to 2 million this year from the year prior, it said earlier this year.

Roblox gets kids coding by hooking them on the game itself when they’re young – around elementary school age. By middle school, users are downloading Roblox Studio to build their own games and experiences. And by high school, they’ve learned to code to customize their games even further.

And the kids aren’t just building for fun – there’s money to be made, too. The top creators make two to three million a year, the company claims. The games are free, but creators monetize through the sale of virtual goods. Roblox says it paid out $30 million to its creator community last year, and is now cash-flow positive.

With Roblox Education, the aim is to get more kids coding by working with educators directly.

The new curriculum offers teachers 12 hours of step-by-step tutorials, handouts, technical setup guides, outlines, lesson guides, and more. It’s shared freely under a Creative Commons license so teachers can use or modify it as they see fit. In the future, the curriculum will be expanded to include other subjects, as well, like Physics and Design, the company says.

In addition, teaching kids how to use Roblox Studio will be the main focus of more than 500 coding camps and online programs this summer in the U.S., U.K. Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada, Spain, Brazil, and Portugal. The kids will learn how to create, publish and market their games to others.

 

The company will also run its 4th annual Roblox Summer Accelerator, and host 45 young developers at its HQ for the summer. The program has previously produced some of the more popular Roblox titles, like MeepCity and Lumber Tycoon.

And it will host its annual Roblox Developer Conference in San Francisco July 13-15, 2018, and in Amsterdam August 17-19, 2018. It’s doubling the number of attendees this year at both.

Finally, Roblox will host its first Creator Challenge with Universal, where kids learn tricks of game building via a Jurassic Park-themed, self-paced course.

“Roblox’s mission is to power and fuel imagination while inspiring a new generation of creators,” said Grace Francisco, VP of Developer Relations at Roblox, said in a statement about the launch. ”We are thrilled to be launching our education initiative that gives young people of all ages and backgrounds the chance to develop the crucial skills needed to be tomorrow’s entrepreneurs and creators.”

Tencent and education startup Age of Learning bring popular English-learning app ABCmouse to China

Tencent is teaming up with Los Angeles-based education company Age of Learning to launch an English education program for kids in China. ABCmouse, Age of Learning’s flagship product, has been localized and will be available as a website and an iOS and Android app in China, with Tencent handling product development, marketing, sales and customer support.

The new partnership extends Tencent’s involvement in ed-tech, which already includes a strategic investment in VIPKID, an online video tutoring platform that connects Chinese kids with English teachers and competes with QKids and Dada ABC. ABCmouse, on the other hand, uses videos, books and online activities like games, songs and stories to help kids study English.

The Chinese version of ABCmouse includes integration with Tencent’s ubiqutioius messenger and online services platform WeChat, which now has more than one billion users, and its instant messaging service QQ, with 783 million monthly active users. This makes it easier for parents to sign up and pay for ABCmouse, because they can use their WeChat or QQ account and payment information. It also allows families to share kids’ English-learning progress on their news feeds or in chats. For example, Chen says parents can send video or audio recordings of their children practicing English to grandparents, who can then buy gift subscriptions with one click.

Though you probably haven’t heard of it unless you have young kids or work with elementary school-age children, Age of Learning has built a significant presence in online education since it was founded in 2007, thanks mainly to the popularity of ABCmouse in schools, public libraries and Head Start programs. Two years ago, Age of Learning hit unicorn status after raising $150 million at a $1 billion valuation from Iconiq Capital.

Jerry Chen, Age of Learning’s president of Greater China, says there are more than 110 million kids between the ages of three to eight in China and the online English language learning market there is “a several billion dollar market that’s growing rapidly.” He points to a recent study by Chinese research agency Yiou Intelligence that says total spending on online English learning programs for children will be 29.41 billion RMB, or about $4.67 billion, this year, and is projected to reach 79.17 billion, or $12.6 billion, by 2022.

The localization of ABCmouse will extend to the design of its eponymous cartoon rodent, who has a more stylized appearance in China. Lessons include animations featuring an English teacher and students in an international school classroom and begin with listening comprehension and speaking before moving onto phonics, reading and writing. Tencent-Age of Learning products will also include speech recognition tools to help kids hone their English pronunciation.

In an email, Jason Chen, Tencent’s general manager of online education, said that the company “reviewed several companies through an extensive research process, and it became clear that ABCmouse had the most engaging and effective online English self-learning curriculum and content for children. Age of Learning puts learning first, and that commitment to educational excellence made them a perfect fit for our online English language learning business.”

 

Edtech company Kidaptive raises $19.1 million for its adaptive learning platform

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Google is shutting down Chrome’s parental control features, replacement to launch later this year

 Google is preparing to launch a new set of parental control features for users of its Chrome browser. The announcement was made in an email sent this week to users of its current system for parental controls and other restrictions called “Chrome Supervised Users,” which is soon shutting down. Read More

Wonderschool gets $2.1M to bring its early childhood programs to New York City

 Wonderschool, a network of in-home daycare and preschools, plans to open 150 programs in New York City after raising $2.1 million in new funding. The capital comes from non-profit investment firm Omidyar Network, Be Curious Partners, Rethink Education, Edelweiss Partners and Learn Capital and brings the startup’s total raised so far to more than $4 million, including a seed round… Read More

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Parenting Hero helps parents figure out how to talk to their kids

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Jellies is a kid-friendly, parent-approved alternative to YouTube Kids

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