Zoodles is out to own your kids as they surf the web, play games, and venture onto tablet computers. The company is launching its child-safe Kid Mode app for Android 3.0 tablets today and is announcing that its previous apps have reached more than a million children.
Mountain View, Calif.-based Zoodles is trying to open up a new market for children on the smartphone and tablet platforms, hoping the devices will spread out to kids as they become cheaper and more ubiquitous. Right now, the market isn’t huge because tablets are very expensive toys for children eight years and under. But Zoodles says it has become the fastest-growing company focused on products for young children. If it stays that way, the dollars will add up.
Zoodles is thinking ahead with a whole suite of offerings for youngsters. The company launched its Zoodles Kid Browser in June, 2010, allowing children to enjoy lots of games and web sites via a safe-for-kids browser plug-in for Firefox. Then in September, the company introduced Kid Mode for Android phones, allowing children to play in a locked application on a parent’s phone. In October, Zoodles launched a video mail service for children (pictured at bottom) where grandparents could read a book to their kids via a Skype-like video calling service.
More than a million children have used Kid Mode to date. In the last 90 days, 500,000 new users have joined. Four kids are joining Zoodles every minute (about eight kids are born every minute in the U.S.). The million kids have spent more than 3 million hours playing education games focused on math and reading skills.
Mark Williamson, chief executive of Zoodles, created Kid Mode as a tool for parents to keep their kids busy with entertainment and learning. Using Kid Mode, they can let their kids play with adult toys such as smartphones or tablets without needing to supervise them. In Kid Mode, for instance, a child can’t accidentally make a phone call to the adult’s boss.
The new Kid Mode app will support all Android tablets, including the Motorola Xoom pictured at top. With Flash-enabled apps and a front-facing camera, the Xoom will be able to run Kid Mode in a way that is much more compelling for children on a big screen. Parents can lock the Home button while a child plays so the kid can’t accidentally delete emails, move calendar appointments, and uninstall apps as they can on unguarded tablets. Parents can also set additional controls and monitor progress in apps, filtering content based on age, interests and educational topics. Zoodles says the Android version is the most feature-rich to date.
On a tablet, the video mail apps gets more interesting. Pre-approved adults such as grandparents can send video messages to children using a webcam and children can respond with the front-facing camera on the tablet. Adults on the run can pre-record bedtime stories for kids, reading a classic storybook in a video recording that the child can view with the tablet.
Sue Hillbeck, a military wife with three kids, has made Zoodles Kid Mode part of her family’s everyday routine, allowing family to send video messages back and forth while her husband is on deployment.
The content accessible via Kid Mode can be adapted to each child’s grade level. Kid Mode is free to download, and a premium membership costs $7.95 a month or $59.95 a year.
Zoodles was founded in 2008 by Williamson, who was frustrated that his young daughter had to be constantly supervised while using a computer to play games. Zoodles Kid Mode is available on the Mac, PC, Android and Apple iOS devices such as the iPhone. Zoodles is currently a top five app on the education section in the Android Market. The TV is the biggest rival, but other rival kid-oriented companies are Glubble and Kidzui.
The company has seven full-time employees and more contractors. The company’s parent company, Inquisitive Minds, raised $2.6 million in funding to date from investors including Harrison Metal Capital.
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