Author(s): Raghu Gopal
Yesterday, Google announced its new Family Link app for Android. Family Link will enable parents to manage their children's Google accounts and monitor their use of Android devices. In theory, Google is welcoming those under the age of 13 to its services. Only new accounts will be eligible for management under Family Link.
Family Link is a two-sided app, installed on one or more supervisory Android devices to control a child's Google account, and on the phone or tablet used by the child. Previously, children under the age of 13 were unable to enrol for an account.
The service enables parents to monitor and govern screen time, and control downloads and app installations. This is certainly a widely desired and commendable feature, but its immediate use will be limited. Family Link requires the child's device to run Android 7.0 Nougat or higher, which means only a sliver of the current number of Android devices in use will be eligible. There was no mention of availability on Chromebooks. Google noted that it does not currently support iOS devices. Furthermore, at present Family Link is available only by invitation to parents and is limited to users in the US. The company will collect feedback during this beta period before opening the service to wider use.
The app will be welcomed by many families looking to oversee their children's device usage and content consumption both in and outside of the home. (Google's own router product, Google WiFi, also provides a level of usage control through a pause function.)
Family Link is also a win for Google, bringing users into the Android ecosystem when they're young. Given the very high loyalty to iOS by many users, Google is wise to try and pre-empt usage of Apple devices. Apple households tend to remain Apple households in the longer term so any effort to disrupt this is a smart move.
Smartphone penetration rates in many developed markets are pushing maximum levels. There's no naivety here. Children of all ages are already very active device users, but Google's Family Link could make them bona fide users in some respects. This won't expand the addressable market immediately, but it could offer parents a reason to start with Android.