In order to do its job, a parental control utility needs to have low-level access to network and operating system functions. Apple's tight control over what iOS apps can do makes life tough for parental control vendors. FamilyTime Premium (for iPhone) is one of several recent releases that have managed to find ways to exert the necessary control. It does quite a bit, but many of its features aren't yet implemented.
You can purchase licenses to cover one, two, or five devices, at a yearly subscription rate of $27, $35, or $69 respectively. Each license lets you create one FamilyTime child profile and associate that profile with one iOS or Android device. The product performs quite differently on the two platforms, so if you're planning on using both you'll want to check out our review of FamilyTime Premium (for Android).
Even though the cost per child goes down when you purchase more licenses, FamilyTime is more expensive than some of its competitors. ContentWatch Net Nanny 7 costs $89.99 for 10 licenses, allowing you to create 10 child profiles and associate each with any number of devices. Qustodio Parental Control has a five-device limit, like FamilyTime, but only charges $44.95 per year. And if you go with Symantec Norton Family Premier, your $49.99 subscription doesn't put any limits on the number of children or devices.
FamilyTime Parental Dashboard
For this review, I installed the FamilyTime parent app on an Apple iPad Air. You can install the parental app on any number of iOS or Android devices, and can also log into the dashboard from any browser. The experience is almost exactly the same on the three platforms. Mobicip (for iPhone) also lets parents manage configuration using an app.
With the app installed, you sign in or sign up for an account. An emailed code verifies that you used the right email address. You'll also get an email containing a temporary password, which you should change right away.
For each child that you want to monitor, you next create a profile. This includes the child's name, date of birth, relationship (son or daughter), and time zone. For now, that's all the configuration you need.
Clicking a link in the parental app gets you detailed, screen-by-screen instructions for installing the app on the child's device. For this test, I installed the FamilyTime child app on my own Apple iPhone 6.
Like Familoop Safeguard (for iPhone) and Circle Go (for iPhone), FamilyTime gets control of the device by using a Mobile Device Management (MDM) profile. MDM is more commonly a business feature; using it for parental control is a clever idea. Most parents probably never heard of an MDM profile, so the step-by-step instructions are quite helpful.
Where Familoop and Circle Go install a Virtual Private Network (VPN) for content filtering, FamilyTime's MDM profile simply installs the FamilyTime child app. Yes, you need the child's device in hand to install this product. And you'll have to give the app a number of permissions, things like access to contacts and location history. With that, it's ready to go.
Note that, while Apple lets parents restrict certain settings behind a secondary passcode, MDM profiles aren't among those settings that can be restricted. Your child can easily remove the profile and uninstall the app. Perhaps with that in mind, the designers added some feature that the child will like, and (you hope) want to keep.
FamilyTime's child dashboard is simple. It has four big buttons labeled PickMeUp, SOS, Help, and Profile. The Android edition is almost identical, but it replace Help with Family Chat (coming soon).
If you forget to pick up your kid from his after-school Klingon lessons, he could just phone you a reminder, but using PickMeUp is probably cooler. When the child taps the button, it sends a notification to the parent's device, including the child's location. The parent taps OK, Coming, or Sorry, I Can't, which in turn notifies the child what's happening.
Tapping SOS in the child app sends a more urgent notification, also including the child's precise location. The only parental response available is "Got it, on my way!" Qustodio's similar feature for Android notifies up to four trusted adults by email. Alas, this panic button feature is absent from Qustodio's iOS edition.
Location and Geofencing
Norton Family Parental Control (for iPhone), Familoop, Qustodio, and uKnowKids Premier (for iPhone) all offer tracking your child's location. FamilyTime, like Familoop and uKnowKids, extends that feature to include geofencing. This feature lets parents define specific locations and get notification when the child enters or leaves a defined location.
When I tapped the button to add a defined place in the Android edition, it defaulted to my current location. For some reason, the iOS edition repeatedly put me in the ocean, off the coast of Australia. I had to enter the desired address. I could also tap the map to define a location, which is a bit different from the Android edition. When configuring geofences in Android, you must drag the map so that the desired location matches the pointer in the middle of the screen.
In most similar apps, you define the size of the geofenced area by tapping the center of a circle and dragging to size it. With FamilyTime, you simply select 150M, 300M, 500M, or 1KM.
Both the iOS and Android editions of FamilyTime include a feature called App Blocker, but the two function very differently. The Android edition lists every app on the child's device, including many background apps that don't have a visible icon. You check off the ones you want to block. If the child tries to use a blocked Android app, FamilyTime displays a warning and sends the parent a notification.
On an iOS device, this feature is completely different. You can block access to Safari, Camera, and Siri, if you wish. You can disable the iTunes Store and App Store, and ban in-app purchases. And you can block the use of Other Apps.
Wondering what that last one meant, I held my breath and gave it a try. Within minutes, almost every icon vanished from my phone's home screen. The only apps left, as far as I could tell, were those that are preinstalled on a new iPhone. I was a little irked that when I restored the apps, they were placed in alphabetic order instead of being arranged as they had been previously. But I noticed the same thing when I tried the similar feature in Familoop.
Internet and Content Filters
The list of Parental Control features on the settings page also includes Internet Filter and Content Filter. However, tapping Internet Filter just gets a message that the feature is coming soon. My company contact tells me that the version with that feature is undergoing review by Apple. I'll test it when it's available.
Content Filter lets you block access to films, TV shows, and apps based on ratings. For example, you could limit films to PG and below, TV shows to TV-PG and apps to 9+. Familoop does something similar, but it presets blocking levels based on the child's age. You can also set FamilyTime to block explicit content in iTunes and erotica in iBooks. The Android edition doesn't have any equivalent to this feature.