Apple may be one of the most profitable companies in the world, but are the parental controls they’ve built into iOS 12 any good?
In the latest version of its mobile operating system for iPhones and iPads, Apple has created more baked-in controls for parents than ever before. While not necessarily a replacement for standalone filtering and/or monitoring software such as Net Nanny, or Covenant Eyes, Apple’s Family Sharing and Screen Time features in iOS 12 provide a substantial number of options for parents looking to help keep their kids safe when using phones and tablets.
To help you get a handle on all the features available to you and your family right out of the box, Plugged In associate editor Kristin Smith dug into iOS 12’s new parental control features in order to provide a helpful hands-on walkthrough for parents whose kids use Apple devices or who are considering whether or not now is the time to allow their child to have a phone or a tablet.
For some, movie and TV filtering is the white whale of the family entertainment business—an elusive tool that gives viewers the ability to watch otherwise good movies without the problematic content. VidAngel, a relatively new player in the game of entertainment filtering technology, is trying to buck the trend of fad filtering services that quickly fizzle.
With the fate of their original business model hanging in the balance due to a court case brought against them by four of the major movie studios, VidAngel pivoted towards a new filtering frontier: your Netflix and Amazon Instant Video queue.
In light of that, we wanted to show you a hands-on breakdown of how VidAngel’s new Netflix and Amazon Prime filtering service actually works in real life.
Video Game Controls and Filters
Video game use can be another potentially problematic issue for the average family. All those many, many different games sing out with their siren’s call, and the kids are pulled in like lonely sailors. There’s fun to be had, but what about all the nasty stuff that some of those games contain? Well, game reviews from Plugged In can certainly give you information that will be helpful in your game buying choices. But each of the major consoles also come with some parental controls designed to help Mom and Dad out, too.
Microsoft Xbox One
In a way, Microsoft’s latest console is designed to be all entertainment things to all people. It’s a gaming console, a device to play music and the latest 4K Blu-ray discs (for those still buying instead of streaming, that is). It’s also an internet interface and it can even sub in as your cable box. So the Microsoft gang packed in quite a few parental controls to let parents keep tabs on how this one-size-fits-all device is being used.
Once parents set up a user profile for each person in the family, each of the kids can have their own sign-in password and each can be assigned a certain set of permissions and limitations. You can select the content level of allowed games based on the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) ratings. You can choose what Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) movie ratings are allowed to be played on the video player. You can determine who can buy games online; who can or can’t stream TV and movies online; or who can even get online. Some of those different permissions and restrictions can be assigned based on age-limit assignments that Microsoft has set up in advance, or you can create a set of custom controls for each account.
Clicking on the option Custom in the Xbox parental control menu opens up a list of options almost too numerous to list here. Let’s just say that you can control everything from how much time can be spent on a game, to how much or how little can be shared with others via sharing or chat, to what friends can be added, to social media access, to the regulation of in-game recordings and Skype use.
To watch YouTube videos and access Microsoft pages about the many control options, click here.
The other big dog in the game console world is, of course, Sony’s PlayStation 4. All of those things I said about Microsoft’s desire to make its console the go-to source for interconnectivity can just about be covered with a “ditto” for this unit. And that applies, for the most part, when you’re talking about parental controls, too.
The parental control system here may not be quite as comprehensive as the Xbox, but Sony has certainly covered all the major areas. Gameplay time limits and restrictions for games, movies and online access are all covered, as is the ability to turn off outgoing messages.
But there is a bit of a drawback here when it comes to the PS4’s slightly more limited control system. For one thing, there’s no way to single out or limit specific games with these controls. It’s all ratings based. If you give permission for T-rated games, for instance, but you’re not too sure you want Junior exercising his trigger finger on a T-rated shooter like, say, Fortnite, well, you’ve got a bit of a problem.
You can check out PlayStation 4’s menu and user guide here.
Now, you might think of the Nintendo Switch as being a console that doesn’t need much of anything in the way of parental controls because it’s so focused on E-rated video game fare. I mean you can’t play Blu-rays or access the internet. So what’s to worry about? And that’s the rep that Nintendo wants you to remember. But there are some non-Mario games to be found for this console, and there are other time-limiting concerns to consider, too.
Fortunately, the Switch system’s parental controls are pretty solid. You can set gameplay time limits (including an alarm that notifies Junior of when his playtime has expired), and quickly suspend them if you want some extra take-the-handheld-into-the-car time. You can set rating restrictions, track every minute of playtime by game, and limit access to specific titles. And when the console hits its designated game-off time limit, everything goes dark (no slipping the handheld controller beneath the covers). Best of all, those controls are all set-up easily and with very simple instructions through an app on your phone.
The only drawback? Well, the restrictions you set apply for all console use, not by individual user. So if Mom sets a play deadline and a game rating limitation for the youngest tyke, an older sibling will be out of luck unless she grabs her phone and taps in her password every time they want to play. That can be frustrating unless somebody wants to spring for a Switch for everybody. (Not that Nintendo would mind.)