Digital Rattles? iParenting with the iPhone

Digital Rattles? iParenting with the iPhone

When a terrible rash hospitalized Leticia Barr's 3-year-old son in December, one of the few things that cheered him up was playing with his mom's iPhone.

Flipping through pictures and watching YouTube videos helped pass the time during what was an uncomfortable and scary time for her toddler, the Washington, D.C., mother of two said.

"You're looking not just at an expensive thing for mom and dad but something for kids," said Barr, who runs the blog TechSavvyMama.com.

Waiting in lines at the doctor's office and elsewhere, she said, is far easier now that she has downloaded a few applications for her son and daughter, 5.

But despite the availability of applications for kids, "I think that this is something that is really wide open, especially with Apple's iPhone coming down in price," she said.

With a new $99 iPhone and the latest iPhone 3GS coming out Friday, industry watchers believe, as developers of child-appropriate apps hope, that more parents will use the iPhone as a learning and entertainment tool.

iPhone as a 'Multi-Purpose Family Tool'

Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies Inc., a Silicon Valley analyst, said that the lower priced iPhone could open it up to parents who might see it as more than a personal smartphone.

"More users [might] be willing to try out the iPhone because of its vast capabilities," he said. "Oh, and by the way, I can also let the kids play games on it and use it for educational things. It becomes more of a multi-purpose family device."

Rick Toone, creator of MobiStories, said he and his partners launched their first virtual kid's book for the iPhone in May, and have already had 10,000 downloads. With each new Apple announcement, Toone said, he has observed a spike in interest. With the cheaper iPhone, and a new one on the way, he's hoping for even more growth.

"I think digital has become a much bigger thing," he said, especially with the growing interest in the Kindle, Amazon's digital reading tablet that lets users wirelessly download books. "Our take is that it's a file. It's however you want to consumer it, wherever you are. ... We're just trying to do the same thing with children's books."

Moms See Practical Use for the iPhone

Toone's books -- nine, so far -- are for 2- to 8-year-olds. And although 2 might sound young, he said he has seen them "mesmerized for 15 minutes," devouring two or three books in one sitting.

Apple, which counts about 50,000 applications in its popular app store, doesn't have a specific category for children. But Heather Leister, a Boise, Idaho, mother who started her TheiPhoneMom.com blog earlier this year, estimates that there are at least a couple hundred applications for Apple's iPhone that are intended for kids.

Leister started the blog in January, when she realized how much her three young kids enjoyed playing with iPhone apps and how so few parents were reviewing them.

"I'm definitely noticing that they're cluing in to that the iPhone is not just for the adults, not just for the tech people," she said of iPhone application developers. "Moms are seeing a practical use for it as well."

And, often, she said, it's the parents who develop the applications themselves.

Parents Develop Apps for Their Own Kids

Erich Bratton, a father from Buffalo Grove, Ill., said he created TowerSmash in October for his two young kids and their cousins.

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