Amazon announced last week it’s introducing a new software package called FreeTime intended for parents who want more control over their kids’ use of the Echo–plus a new Echo Dot Kids Edition.
These are smart moves by the numbers, This new kids version, which will debut May 9 (but of course you can preorder it now; this is Amazon after all), will carry a price tag of $79.99, versus $49.99 for the regular Echo Dot. However, the hardware on the regular and kids’ versions is almost identical, except that the kids version comes with a protective case and a two-year warranty.
Beyond that, for your extra $30, Amazon will throw in a one-year subscription to its new FreeTime Unlimited Family Plan. And FreeTime is potentially the real headline here.
It’s important to note that Amazon is releasing two similarly named updates at the same time: FreeTime, which as the name sounds, is free, and FreeTime Unlimited, which costs you $83 a year–although again, it’s added as part of the package if you buy the Echo Dot Kids Edition.
The scaled down, free version of FreeTime will allow anyone with an Echo, Echo Dot or Echo Plus to control a lot of what your kids can do with the devices. Among the features:
Again, this is the free version of FreeTime, which becomes available to everyone on May 9. There paid version, which costs $2.99 per month per kid, adds access to Audible children’s books, and other offerings from iHeartRadio, Disney, Nickelodeon, and National Geographic.
Basically: programming for kids. There’s also a family unlimited plan–apparently that’s what you’ll get as an add-on for the new kids’ version of the Echo Dot–and which would otherwise cost $83 per year.
It’s tough to know how many Echoes Amazon has sold, some estimates suggested 22 million in 2017 alone. Separately, according to the Census Bureau, there are about 21 million U.S. households with kids between the ages of 3 and 12. So the size of the market is pretty impressive.
Having already bought an Echo however, I can’t imagine purchasing a second one–let alone a more expensive kids’ version–although that’s likely what Amazon is hoping a lot of families will do. Perhaps I’d be a different type of customer if I had older kids, or a bigger house for that matter.
Meantime, the FreeTime package feels like the first step in answering some of the questions parents have been asking about these devices and kids. Like any potentially addictive electronic device, you’d want to have ways to limit your kids’ usage. Think of it as a “screen time” issue, except without a screen.
And while I’m not sure whether I want my child to grow up feeling obligated to offer politeness and deference to machines, I do want her to interact that way with other humans. So I’m cool with the positive reinforcement for politeness.
Of course, there’s also the insanely creepy notion of placing an always-on listening device in your kids’ bedrooms to begin with, which this doesn’t address. I’ll be interested to see whether parents eventually demand some kind of update that addresses that issue, too.