The things that are good for us aren’t often particularly enjoyable. That’s why some people refuse to floss, others continue to eat processed foods, and still others drive their carbon-coughing vehicles through overcrowded cities. People need a little incentive to do the healthier thing — or, in the immortal words of Mary Poppins: a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.
It is with that mindset that Zact is today announcing a partnership with Disney through which some of the media behemoth’s games and services will be pre-installed on the company’s smartphones. This is meant to make the devices, which will be marketed to parents and children, more appealing to those who might otherwise pass by the fledgling company’s products.
Previous coverage of Zact has focused on the company’s flexible wireless plans, which allow consumers to pay only for the voice minutes, text messages, and wireless data they purchase. (This is in contrast to other carriers, which force consumers to pay a flat rate even if that means paying for services they never use.) But the company also provides software that allows parents to control the applications their children can use, the people with whom their children can communicate, and the times at which their children can use their smartphones.
“Up until recently, many young kids didn’t have smartphones, mainly because parents were uncomfortable with many factors that go into the smartphone experience,” says Greg Raleigh, the founder and CEO of Zact parent company ItsOn. “If you can’t provide explicit permissions for which applications and what experiences that child’s phone can implement, who knows what the child is going to do with that phone?”
Offering a phone that distracts children with Disney’s games and services while appeasing parents by allowing them to control every other aspect of the device might just help Zact raise awareness for its service. And Raleigh says that the service is designed to evolve as children age — the Disney software can be deleted, restrictions can be loosened, and the device can better resemble a typical smartphone.
Some might take issue with this concept, however. Exerting such control over the ways in which children interact with technology is a short-term solution to a long-term problem. It’s not like technology ever goes away; it will probably be a constant part of many children’s lives, and learning to have a healthy relationship with it will become increasingly important as time goes on.
“Instead of just blocking access to the website, what we should do is educate [children] about the good and the bad of the Internet without blocking the entire Web, and then just blocking access to hardcore material on Facebook,” MetaCert CEO Paul Walsh told me in June. “No technology should ever take the place of parental guidance.”
Parents will have to carefully choose the way with which they manage their children’s smartphone usage. Some might choose to use something like Zact to exert direct control while others will choose to go the knowledge-and-guidance route; not all parents think alike, and the market is varied enough for both approaches to coexist.
Zact’s approach appeals to parents and children by offering easy access to the games and services provided by one of the world’s most beloved media companies; the other approach might allow children to see a few raunchy films as they learn to control their technological urges. It’s up to each parent to pick their poison… or perhaps in this particular case, their spoonful of sugar.
[Image via Weespring]