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Zoodles' Kid Mode makes Android phones safe play zones

Inquisitive Minds is launching a new mobile app called Zoodles that will bring relief to harried parents. The Zoodles Kid Mode for Android app lets parents give their smartphone to a bored child while on the go. The app lets the child play hundreds of different age-appropriate Flash games that are accessible through a single app.

The good thing is that the child can’t get into trouble with the phone. The app prevents the child from hitting the Home key, which, on an Android phone, interrupts the app and takes the user back to the home screen. That deals with a big problem in just handing any non-Zoodles-equipped smartphone to a child: the kid may drop out of the program and accidentally start making phone calls.

“It removes a lot of the worry from handing over your phone,” said Mark Williamson, chief executive of Inquisitive Minds, in an interview.

He said the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company’s Android app is aimed at replacing the poor solution that exasperated parents use: giving the kid a phone with a game running on it. You can disable a phone somewhat by running it in airplane mode, which turns off Wi-Fi and phone access, but that doesn’t deal with the problem of a small child accidentally exiting the app. If a phone call comes in, the parent can answer the call. And the parent can quickly enable the full phone service again with a shortcut gesture.

In May, the company launched Zoodles Kid Browser, which sits atop Adobe Air and allows parents to give kids ages 2 to 8 access to a web-connected computer without worry they’ll get into trouble. The application shows only games that are appropriate for that child’s age group. The company launched a Firefox version as well.

Williamson said the company spent a lot of time pre-screening games for the PC. On Android, the company had to create a new app from the ground up, finding hundreds of Flash games that work well on touchscreen phones. All of the games that appear as choices have been pre-tested. Flash games work on Android phones, but they don’t work on the iPhone. So Inquisitive Minds is working on a separate app just for the iPhone.

In May, Inquisitive Minds announced it raised $2.6 million in seed funding from Harrison Metal Capital. Williamson, a father of two, founded Inquisitive Minds in late 2008 after trying to get his oldest child to manage her own play time on PBSkids.org. But the child frequently clicked out of the web page and had to get help. Williamson wanted to find something, other than TV, that the child could do without any supervision. The company soft-launched the Zoodles beta in April 2009. Tens of thousands of kids have logged more than 1 million hours playing it so far. The main competition is the TV.

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