Hulu, Netflix offer kid-safe iPad apps

hululogoHulu just updated its free app for iPad and iPhone to version 2.7. Those running the Hulu on an iPad will notice a new kid-friendly feature called Kids Lock. It allows parents to restrict the app to ad-free, kid-friendly content. It works pretty well, and is similar to the Just For Kids feature that Netflix introduced in October of 2012.

As you’ll see, Hulu’s solution is superior, but I’ve got a workaround for Netflix’s shortcoming. Here’s a look at how to make Netflix and Hulu safer for kids on the iPad, and how to get around Netflix’s poor implementation.

Hulu’s Kids Lock

Hulu offers streaming TV shows and movies on the iPhone, iPad and desktop. It selection is pretty good, especially if you’re a television fan. You’ll find several options for kids, as well as content they shouldn’t see. Kids Lock lets you restrict the app to the former. To set it up, follow these steps (remember, Hulu Kids Lock for iOS is only available on the iPad for some reason).

hulukids

  1. Tap the Kids tab in the central tool bar.
  2. A new window appears featuring a selection of children’s programs (above).
  3. Tap Lock for Kids in the upper right-hand corner.
  4. A dialog box appears describing the features of Kids Lock. To proceed, tap Enable Kids Lock.

That’s it. To watch a program, simply tap it and get started.

lockconfirm

To exit Kids Lock, you must enter your Hulu password (above). Once that’s done, you can browse Hulu’s complete library. This is a real advantage over Netflix’s Just For Kids. Users can exit that service’s lock-out by simply tapping the exit button twice, no password required. But don’t worry, I’ve got a fix for that. Read on.

Netflix’s Just For Kids

Last October, Netflix updated its app for iPhone and iPad (free, universal) with a feature called “Just for Kids.” It’s meant to present kid-friendly movies and TV shows while hiding those inappropriate for children. It’s a nice first step, but that’s all it is. I was able to exit Just For Kids mode easily, and even view an R-rated feature when it should have been hidden.

kidsmode

Flipping the kid-friendly switch is easy. You’ll find a button in the upper left labeled Just for Kids. Tap it and the app displays a nice grid of kid-friendly programs and family features. Tap any feature to view a pop-up window that presents either a grid of episodes (if your target is a TV show) or a synopsis and rating (movies). I’d be happy to hand this over to my kids during a long road trip, if only it weren’t so easy to exit.

To exit Just For Kids mode, tap the Exit Kids button in the upper left-hand corner. A confirmation button appears (“Yes?”). Tap it and you’re out. That’s it. There’s no code to enter, no password, no question to answer or anything. Once that’s done, the full Netflix library is available.

exitkidsmode

It’s entirely too easy to exit Kids Mode. Let’s fix that.

Add security with Guided Access

Fortunately, Apple has built Guided Access into iOS 6. It’s a new accessibility function on the iPhone and iPad that lets you disable certain controls within an app. It’s perfect for making Just For Kids mode actually useful. Here’s how. First, enable Guided Access on your iPad or iPhone:

  1. Open the Settings app, tap General and then tap Accessibility.
  2. Tap Guided Access and move the slider to the On position.
  3. Set a passcode that will be required to disable Guided Access. Exit the Settings app.

Now it’s time to apply it to the Netflix app. To begin, enable Just For Kids mode by tapping Just for Kids in the upper left-hand corner. Then, follow these steps:

  1. Triple-click your iPad’s Home button.
  2. The Guided Access options screen appears.
  3. Draw a circle around the Exit Kids button.
  4. Tap Start.

That’s it. The Netflix app will now behave as normal except for the Exit Kids button. Tapping it does nothing. Also, if you rotate the iPad, the grey area travels with the Exit Kids button. So Jr. can’t avoid it by rotating the iPad.

There are a couple of things to be aware of. First, a little “greyed out” circle appears over the Exit Kids button, and remains in place while the selected video plays. It’s mildly annoying, but Jr. should habituate to it easily enough. If he complains, remind him that he’s lucky to have the iPad at all, and that when you were a kid, road trip entertainment included staring at trees.

Secondly, you can triple-tap the Home button and enter the code to disable Guided Access at any time. Make sure Jr. does not know the code.

This is nice, but it’s still not perfect. During my testing, I was able to enter Just For Kids mode but still browse movies and shows meant for adults (see below). It’s clearly a bug but I wasn’t able to replicate it, so I can’t tell you how to avoid it. The bad news is that I launched The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo while in kid mode. That movie is most definitely for adults.

kidstattoo

“Daddy, why is that girl so angry?”

For now, Hulu’s solution is superior, simply because it employes a basic password strategy. Netflix’s head is in the right place but the execution is very poor, as it’s just too easy to exit the safe setting. Guided Access helps, but the app itself should have its own safeguards. Here’s hoping Netflix soon adds the same basic security measure.

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