You know toddlers: The more expensive and precious an object is, the more likely they’ll grab it. My 15-month-old daughter loves nothing better than to get her drooly little hands on my iPad—and when she does, she (naturally) skips the PBS Kids and Barney apps and makes a beeline for Safari and my Mail inbox. Great.
Now, you could always get a baby-friendly case for your Android or iOS device, but be warned: They’re big, they’re bulky, and while they (typically) lock down the “home” and sleep keys, most 15-month-olds I know can pick the lock of a baby smartphone case in 10 seconds flat.
Android and iOS devices both have parental controls, but you can’t just turn them on with the flick of a switch. It’ll take a few minutes to block web access, messaging, app purchases, and other grownup features—plus a few minutes more to turn them all back on again. That’s fine when it comes to permanently kid-proofing a hand-me-down phone or tablet, but not super-convenient if you’re dealing with your own device.
Instead, let’s focus on a pair of features—one for Android, another for iOS users—that’ll quickly and temporarily lock down your handset, perfect for giving your tots some quick screen time without having to take a deep dive into the Settings menu.
Android: Restricted profiles
The latest Android phones and tablets boast a feature that doubtless makes many an iOS owner jealous: separate user profiles—handy for families who share a single tablet, or a friend who needs to borrow your phone for a few minutes.
Lollipop-enabled Android phones and tablets (running on KitKat or better) include a so-called “restricted” profile that lets you lock down access to only the apps you choose, and you can set parental restrictions for videos, music, and books.
Basically, we’re talking a kid-friendly user profile on your Android phone or tablet—and one that you can switch on and off in moments.
Here’s how to set it up...
● Tap Settings > Users > Add user or profile, then tap Restricted profile.
● Next, you’ll see a setup screen with the name “New profile” at the top. Tap New profile to change the name to, say, the name of your child.
● Below the profile name, you’ll see a list of every app installed on your device—including Chrome, Google search, the Camera app, and others that you might not want your toddler touching. They’re all switched off by default. Certain apps, like Google+ and Google Hangouts, can’t be turned on at all; for the others (like, say, PBS Kids), you can unblock access by flipping the switches next to their icons. You’ll also find a few apps with gear-shaped Settings buttons; tap to configure additional “restricted” settings, such as content ratings for movies and TV shows.
● All set? Tap the Back button, put your phone or tablet to sleep, then tap the user icon in the top corner of the screen (for Lollipop-enabled devices) or at the bottom (for KitKat devices). Tap the icon of the restricted profile you just created, and boom—your Android device is baby-proofed. When your sweetie is finished, switch back to your own profile to get your phone or tablet back again.
iOS: Guided Access
The ability to set up and switch user profiles on phones and tablets is a feature that Apple needs to steal from Android, pronto. For now, though, there’s no way to switch between users on an iPhone or iPad—and that includes baby-friendly profiles.
Luckily, there’s an alternative: Guided Access, a feature that essentially lets you temporarily baby-proof a specific app.
With Guided Access switched on, you can disable the Home key, the volume buttons, the “sleep” button, and even specific zones of the touchscreen that you trace with your fingertip.
Once you have Guided Access configured for a particular app (and yes, iOS will remember the Guided Access settings for multiple apps), you can turn it on by triple-clicking the Home button. It’s not quite as handy as Android’s “restricted” profile, but it’s pretty close.
Let’s get started...
● Tap Settings, General, Accessibility. Scroll down to the Learning section, tap Guided Access, then flip the “on” switch.
● Next, you should lock Guided Access with a passcode, using either a short numeric PIN or Touch ID (assuming your newer iPhone or iPad has a touch-sensitive Home button). If you don’t set a passcode lock, your kid will be able to turn off Guided Access herself by triple-tapping the Home key—and believe me, she’ll figure it out.
● Head back to your home screen and open an app that you want to baby-proof, like the oldie-but-goodie Koi Pond. (My little girl loves feeding the fish.)
● Triple-tap the Home key, then circle any areas of the touchscreen that you want to disable. For example, Koi Pond has a tiny settings button in the corner that always seems to get tapped. Just circle it with your fingertip to kid-proof that section of the screen.
● Now, tap the Options button. When you do, a series of options will slide up. Flip a switch to keep a particular setting or button—anything from the sleep/wake button to motion sensitivity—active during Guided Access mode. You can also set a timer, perfect for putting a lid on iPad or iPhone time.
● Done? Tap the Start button, then hand your iDevice to your child with confidence (drooly fingers aside). To reclaim your handset, triple-click the Home button and enter your passcode.
Note: If your little one triple-clicks the Home key and taps in the wrong passcode (and yes, she will), you’ll have to wait 10 seconds before trying to unlock Guided Access mode again. If she tries and fails again, you’ll have to wait 60 seconds—and if she tries again, you’ll have to wait three minutes. In other words, you should probably repossess your iPhone or iPad if you spot your child messing with the passcode too often.