When it comes to their respective days of honor, why do dads get funny ties and moms get diamond heart necklaces? Why do we spend 40% more on Mother’s Day than Father’s Day? Some seemingly ungrateful children (and a few dads) offer explanations. Every year since the National Retail Federation has been keep track, the amount consumers spend on Father’s Day gifts has been significantly less than the average spent on Mother’s Day. This year, average Father’s Day spending is expected to be around $120, compared with $169 for moms. To get to the bottom of this apparent inequity, I interviewed scores of dads and kids about Father’s Day. Here’s what they had to say about why dads get less: They Don’t Speak Up The provider role that’s central to many fathers’ identities doesn’t really jibe well with having their kids provide them with stuff. Either that or many dads just don’t know what they want. In any event, it’s commonplace for kids to have no clue what to buy. Here are a few of the quotes from children that tell the story: “Mom always gives us hints, we know what she wants. Dad? He always says the same thing, ‘I don’t want anything.’ I have no idea what to get him so I usually just get him a card or something small.” — Mylene, 13 (MORE: Is Retail Therapy for Real? 5 Ways Shopping Is Actually Good for You) “My dad always says he doesn’t need anything. Probably true but not helpful.” — Jacob, 16 “I always got my mom bubble bath and she’d alway get so excited. I thought it was perfect and she looked forward to it every year. Then I was looking for Q-Tips and I found like five bottles of it under the sink. At least with dad he’s honest about it. There isn’t really anything I can get him that he wouldn’t get for himself already. He always says, ‘Don’t waste your money.’ So I don’t.” — Andrea, 25 They Have Expensive Tastes Boxer
Theme parks are so predictable. Universal Studios Orlando recently jacked up admissions prices by a few bucks, just as it did last year in the weeks before kids start their summer breaks. It was only a matter of time before Disney followed suit. Walt Disney World in Orlando and Disneyland in southern California did just that on Sunday. A single-day ticket for adults (10 and up) to Disneyland increased from $87 to $92. A one-day child admission (ages 3 to 9) is now $86. In Orlando, the one-day adult pass to the Magic Kingdom goes from $89 to $95. Add in tax, and your day of fun at the “Most Magical Place on Earth” runs $101.18. The one-day child pass to the Magic Kingdom now costs $89, or $94.79 after tax. Prices to Walt Disney World’s other parks, such as EPCOT and Animal Kingdom, are slightly less: A single-day adult admission costs $90 plus tax. Multi-day passes to Disney parks increased as well. A four-day adult ticket, for instance, which ran $256 recently, now costs $279 – plus tax, plus another $59 for the Park Hopper option, which allows guest to enter more than one park on the same day. (MORE: Is Airline-Style Variable Pricing Coming to Theme Park Tickets?) These rates might seem high even before the price hikes. But when Universal instituted its price increase, a company spokesperson made the case that its admission rates represent great value: “We set our prices to reflect the value of the entertainment experience we offer,” Universal’s Tom Schroder said. Predictably, Disney spokesman Bryan Malenius said essentially the same thing over the weekend. Via the Orlando Sentinel, he said, “A ticket to our theme parks represents a great value, particularly when you look at the breadth and quality of attractions and entertainment we offer and the special moments guests experience with our cast.” The most obvious way to bring down the per-day cost of admission at these parks is to, well, it’s to spend more money overall via a multi-day ticket or
What with all the flashing screens, dinging bells, and glazed-over customers absorbed in the games at hand, a Chuck E. Cheese arcade bears quite a resemblance to the slot machine section of a casino. Are kids, in fact, gambling in between their pizza and soda? Thanks to new legislation in Florida targeting Internet café sweepstake gambling operations, there’s an argument to be made that some Chuck E. Cheese games involve gambling and are therefore illegal. Since kids are the chain’s main clientele, that’s a problem for more reason than one. Many states have cracked down on Internet café gambling in recent years. Last summer, the Wall Street Journal reported on the efforts in places such as Ohio, South Carolina, and Michigan to shut down—or at least regulate—these cafes, which are filled with simulated slot-machine games and often operate totally out in the open in strip mall locations. While the games vary, most involve plastic swipe cards that are purchased by customers and give users a certain number of “sweepstakes” entries in games of chance played on video screens. The games, which offer cash prizes, have been especially popular among the elderly. “It has become my world,” one 70-year-old woman told the WSJ while inside her neighborhood gambling café in Ohio. Such Internet cafes began appearing in Massachusetts in large numbers around 2009, and in the summer of 2011, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley affirmed that these operations were illegal. “This kind of activity, gambling, is not allowed under Massachusetts law,” Coakley said at the time, according to the Boston Globe. “They are totally unregulated, there’s no oversight, and there is no protection for the consumer.” (MORE: The Real Reason We Should Cheer the Cellphone Unlocking Law) Business owners have argued that the games are legal sweepstakes because they allow anyone to participate for a few rounds without spending any money. “It’s not gambling,” the lawyer for one Internet parlor in western Massachusetts explained to the Springfield Republican. “It’s really paying for computer time.” Nonetheless, two of the largest such Internet
Children are known for how much they love to play make believe, and StoryKid, an app introduced today during the Disrupt Hackathon in New York, takes this and gives it a new twist by offering a series of pictures as visual cues for a child to tell a story based around them. StoryKid is aimed at children aged 2 to 5 who are already talking but may either be too young or just starting to write. Created by two comparative literature PhDs from Columbia University, the idea is that this will, in turn, help bring children into the world of story telling and literature. And as co-founder Tianjiao Yu tells me, it can also be used by parents when they’ve run out of inspiration for their own made-up bedtime stories.
Yu, left, says that she learned to code to create the app, while her co-founder Lu Xiong, right, boned up on design and user experience to work on the visual elements. Their motivation to do this was to take what they’ve been learning out of the ivory towers of higher learning.
“Both of us are interested in the humanities and making them accessible to everyone,” Yu says. “We find creating an app is the perfect way to do this.” StoryKid is one of three ideas that the pair have to make literature more accessible to people. The other two, however, are more about discovery of existing literature rather than creating new things. The two are on the lookout now for a third coder who can help with creating these.
Indeed, even StoryKid, as it was created this weekend in the Hackathon, is still at an early stage of where they would like for it to be. The pictures, she notes, for today’s demo were sourced from visual search engine Niice but they will come from other sources when the actual app launches in about 1.5 months.
And the idea will be to also add in more of the to co-founders’ literary knowledge into the narrative structure. “You learn a lot of theories about how to analyse the elements of a story,” Yu notes. “We want to use them here to help generate stories instead, how to help people figure out relationships between people and places, or the connection between two characters.”
Then they would also like to add recording elements, in audio and video, but also in terms of preserving the pictures, to be presented almost like e-books of their own for retelling a story later. These could also link up with other programs like Evernote, which has developed a whole sideline in helping users keep track of what they have read and seen on the web, “a record for parents to know and remember what their kids have been thinking about.”
And although the app, such as it is now, is aimed at toddlers making up their own stories, you can see, too, how this could also be used for older children who are writing more, to write down their narratives once they have them together.
That sounds like schoolwork disguised as leisurely app time, but Yu emphasizes that the “main idea is to have fun, and to make literature fun.” I for one look forward to introducing things like this to my kids to see what they think.
Alert.Us, a recently launched mobile family safety application, has some interesting ideas about the direction that these sorts of GPS tracking apps should go. In fact, says CEO Antoine Martin, the company’s goal is to have kids actually accept and recommend the app. That’s a bit different from the other parental control or safety apps on the market today which generally launch with the needs of parents, not their offspring, in mind. It’s also a fairly lofty goal, since kids don’t generally want to be tracked.
Currently, the app currently offers the usual round-up of family safety functions: a geo-fenced alerting function to let others know when someone has arrived at home or school, for example, as well as an emergency alert button which, when triggered, sends out a message to a pre-configured list including family, friends, neighbors, and anyone else who can rush in to respond.
Though these types of “emergency” alerting functions haven’t yet been seen to thwart any serious crimes – like kidnappings, for instance, families can still take advantage of the functionality for more common incidents, like a kid who falls off his bike or the little brother calling on his older brother for help with bullies, maybe.
Some of these ideas have been tried before, through apps like Life360, iHound, Norton Safety Minder, React Mobile, Rapid protect, and others. But Alert.Us also offers a few extra tools not all the apps have, including a family message board for the everyday missives between family members (can you get the milk?) – something which would somewhat compete with other startups like Tango or newly launched Hubble.
Alert.Us offers a battery monitoring function, too, which is one of its smarter features at launch. When a child’s battery is empty, the app alerts the parents. It’s such a simple idea, but it goes a long way to help parents to avoid the panic they encounter when a child doesn’t answer their phone. (It also helps with the kids who claim “oh, my battery was dead,” when it wasn’t. Gotcha.)
But back to the problem of getting kids to actually like the app? Martin tells us that will be the focus in the months ahead, and hints at plans to head into the Quantified Self space to add value on top of basic GPS tracking.
Alert.Us quietly launched two months ago, but the company hasn’t done much outreach or marketing. The cross-platform application has already added over 25,000 users (70 percent on iPhone) during that time, and now finds that active parents open the app six times per day.
The Paris-based company had a launch partnership with e-commerce site vente-privee.com to drive initial downloads, and on the first day after launch, the app climbed to number three in the French App Store, and remained there for two days. It also spent a week at the top of the Lifestyle category, Martin adds.
Parents can use the app on a trial basis for up to 900 minutes and/or 3 alerts, then it’s $6.99 per month ($64.99 per year) afterwards. To date, the app has converted 100 of its early adopters into paying customers, out of the 10 percent of the user base which has reached the end of the trial period.
Alert.Us is backed by $500,000 in angel funding, from an undisclosed group that include four “super angel moms.”
In a mere two years, the proportion of teenagers who expect to be financially dependent on their parents until their mid-20s has doubled. That gives us all another reason to feel sympathy for parents who have teenagers right now. A new survey conducted by Junior Achievement, a group that teaches kids about money and jobs, found that 25% of teens think they won’t be able to support themselves until their mid-20s. Two years ago, just 12% of teens surveyed said that they’d have to reach the 25-to 27-year-old age bracket before being able to pay all of their own bills. Correspondingly, the proportion of teens who expect to achieve financial independence by the ages of 18 to 24 has plummeted, from 75% in 2011 to 59% today. Are these kids just unmotivated? Maybe some of them are, but many more are facing escalating college costs and poor job prospects. An alarming number have a poor understanding of budgeting and basic finance as well. Plus, the old stigmas attached to relying on one’s parents well into adulthood, and even moving back home after college, seem to have faded. To make ends meet, Generation X crowded in with roommates, ate Ramen and slept on futons. Post-college millennials still have roommates, but they increasingly call them “mom” and “dad.” The number of young adults living with their parents spiked during the Great Recession era. Today’s teens apparently don’t mind the idea of moving back in with the ‘rents, or they at least understand the necessity of making such a move given the state of the economy and the likelihood of large student loans down the road. (MORE: Being 30 and Living With Your Parents Isn’t Lame — It’s Awesome) Providing a place to live isn’t the only way parents are helping out their adult children. In many families, it’s become the norm for parents to step in and pay bills for smartphones, Internet access, music and TV subscription services like iTunes and Hulu. A survey of parents with adult children up to 35
Kytephone, the Y Combinator-backed startup making smartphones kid-friendly and safe, is now expanding its focus beyond the “little kids” crowd with the introduction of a new platform for teenagers and parents. Called “Kytetime,” the system is designed more for keeping track of a child’s location and their phone usage, rather than strictly locking down the phone or offering a simplified user interface.
The company first launched last summer to address the problems associated with smartphones being put into the hands of ever younger children, whether as their own device or on loan from their busy parent, caving into the kid’s request to play games. With the original Kytephone Android application, the software is able to take advantage of apps’ ability to deeply integrate with the Android platform, and presents a kid-friendly interface that also lets mom or dad control who the child can phone or receive calls from, which apps they can access, and more. It also taps into the phone’s GPS for a location-tracking feature.
Now Kytephone has repurposed that same technology for its teen-focused product, Kytetime, which is reminiscent of the “Net Nanny” applications which tracked kids’ Internet usage on desktops, and restricted access to inappropriate content.
Similarly, Kytetime, can also track how the teen is spending time on their phone, what websites they’re visiting, how much time the teen spends in each app, when apps are used, who the teen is talking to and texting with, and more.
However, because it’s the next step up from Kytephone’s “kiddie” interface, the system doesn’t actually block sites or apps entirely, though it does allow a parent to set up “time of day” controls for app. This prevents teens from using apps after a designated bed time or during school hours, for example.
So yes, no more Snapchatting in class, it seems.
“Kytetime is focused on awareness rather than control,” explains Ktyephone’s Anooj Shah. “Our goal was for the child and parent to be aware of how the child uses the phone and highlight opportunities where the kid can use the phone more responsibly,” he says. “We wanted Kytetime to facilitate a conversation between the parent and the child, rather than all out control.”
Unlike the original app, Kyteime doesn’t offer an app sandboxing functionality, nor does it present a child interface. Instead, the teens get full access to the Android interface, as they would normally.
However, parents still have the location-tracking feature available to them, and they have an online and mobile-friendly “Parent Dashboard,” where they can configure settings and track activity in real time. Parents can also receive email reports, summarizing their teen’s activities.
But like the Kytephone kids application, the new Kytetime app is also available as a free download from the Google Play app store. Access to the Kytetime Parent Dashboard and the email activity reports will only be available on a subscription basis. The fee is $40 per year, or $5 on a monthly basis. A two-week free trial is available upon sign-up, and it doesn’t require a credit card to try out.
To date, Kytephone has been installed by tens of thousands of users (Google Play shows installs between 10,000 and 50,000 but the company didn’t want to share exact numbers publicly). It has users in 60 countries worldwide. Kytetime, which now has over 1,000 installs of its own since launch a couple of days ago, is already gaining parents’ attention.
Though not everyone is happy, of course. Writes one user in his review: “I hate it !!!!!!!!! Say one who it is used on,” laments the teen.
Famil.io, a new service for privately sharing photos and videos with your family across web and mobile, is today officially launching to the public. The sharing platform can serve as a complement to Facebook, where most families network today, though in a more restrained fashion. Or for those family members who aren’t even active on Facebook, Famil.io can, to some extent, serve as a replacement.
The service works online, or as a web browser extension (initially for Chrome), and on iOS or Android. This cross-platform support was critical for Famil.io, CEO Iftach Yair explains.
Yair joined Famil.io, which is being incubated within Israel’s lool.vc, around six months ago to help co-founder Iftach (yes, also!) Orr bring the product to the market. Lool.vc operates in a similar manner to Betaworks here in the U.S., in that it funds and incubates startups, providing them with office space, resources and support.
“I took the basic project that was running and made a lot of changes in it,” explains Yair. ”The major one was to take Famil.io from a destination site and an app, into a cross-platform, cross-generation product,” he says. “In order to make this product work, you have to make it agnostic of the platform or devices that your family is using. If you’re going to build a product for iPhones or Android, and look away from the desktop, then you’ll be leaving a good chunk of your family aside, and that will make your product unsuccessful,” Yair adds.
It’s a good argument, and one that’s especially applicable to my personal situation, because my own parents are Facebook holdouts. (My father is a state Court of Appeals judge, and it’s discouraged.) But in every family, there are those – often older members – who aren’t as active on Facebook than others. Famil.io finally includes them.
The website and Chrome extension are very simple to use, though someone might have to help the grandparents with the latter. During the private beta with some 7,000 users, the thing the non-technical users said they liked about the Chrome add-on is that it takes over Chrome’s “new tab” page, putting photos and updates from family directly in their browser. (For those like me who actually use the new tab page, not to worry – you can disable this in the Settings.)
Famil.io reminds me a lot of Familiar, which offers a strikingly similar service for photo-sharing, but one which revolves around screensavers, as opposed to an online application. As of year-end 2012, following its $1.3 million seed round from Greylock, Indx, Redpoint, Allen & Company, and others, Familiar said it had displayed over 200 million photos, and was seeing 135 percent month-over-month growth in November.
Sometimes the industry has trouble parsing services like this, which eschew chasing the “next big thing” to focus instead on the second wave of technology adopters. But these services can find their niche among those families looking for simpler solutions. When I stopped updating my Familiar briefly, for instance, my sister even called me to complain that she had no new photos of her niece.
Of course, going after the long tail isn’t a future-proof strategy for obvious reasons, but Famil.io has plans to offer a differentiated feature set in the future, which should have broader appeal.
Currrently, with Famil.io, the idea is that instead of screensavers, users can receive push notifications, not entirely different from Facebook’s own notifications, right in their web browser via the browser extension. This is helpful because on Facebook, users tend to miss a lot of their family photos because of the noise and the way Facebook’s News Feed works, Yair says. “Some people think that by sharing on Facebook, everyone sees the photos, but the reality is that because of the Facebook Graph, only around 15 percent of photos are viewed at any time,” Yair claims. (Facebook’s News Feed algorithms are always in flux, we should note, so these numbers tend to change. Still, the overall point – that things get missed – is accurate.)
He also adds that as people’s networks have expanded, they’ve grown less comfortable with sharing all their family photos on Facebook. “I don’t want to spam everyone with photos of my son,” Yair explains, giving a personal example. “This is an issue…most people don’t really care about other people’s kids that much.”
Currently, Famil.io’s platform supports high-res photo uploads from your computer or phone, plus support for photo imports from Facebook (for those that may have been missed). Videos are supported as well, and in the future, the company will add the option for sharing posts, also like Facebook. Users can comment on and like the shared photos and videos, too.
One of the more interesting things about the service is that everyone builds their own Famil.io groups – just because you’re invited to join a group with Aunt Sally in it, doesn’t mean that your spouse (who can’t stand the woman), has to have her in his group in order to see your shares. That’s different from how most group-based service work today – it’s more flexible.
The long term goal is not just to mimic Facebook’s feature set, while serving a private audience – but to offer something tangible to its users. Famil.io plans to monetize by offering built-in print-on-demand services for photo prints and photobooks, among other things, as well as a way to pay for “lifetime storage,” meaning secure, online hosting and easy-to-export data.
Pricing for these things have not yet been worked out. The service itself is free to use – sign up is here.