Google needs to learn from Amazon on how to build products for kids

Amazon Fire 7
Amazon Fire 7

It's easy to think of mobile and its associated gadgetry as a two-way race between Apple and Google. When it comes to all things flashy that tech writers and Twitter pundits like to make words about, iOS and Android (their respective ecosystems actually) rule the roost. But that's not quite accurate — companies like AT&Timewarner or NBComcast Universal or Verizonhoo! (sorry) are huge corporations with very deep pockets that have all played significant roles in shaping our tech landscape.

And one other company is so important that the rest are actually willing to work with it in order to get its ecosystem into theirs: Amazon.

Amazon quietly releases products for kids while Google tells us about notification dots. Both companies can learn from each other.

Amazon chugs along and does its own thing, which means more than just web retail. Amazon has its own services and builds its own hardware and makes so much cash from its web retail business that it can do both without caring about profit every quarter (which resembles Google's loss-leading role in Android). The products sold are best used as a conduit to the profitable side of the company, which might be online shopping and semi-instant gratification, or AWS and storage. Both rake in more money than any of us can imagine.

One big difference between Amazon and Google, though, is how each company approaches a giant cash cow an important market segment — kids. Kids have no money, but if you have one or two, you know they don't need any. Kids are adorable and adults buy them things they want. As a father of three, I have seen this sorcery in action and had these spells cast on me. We want to buy toys and games and other "fun" things for our kids, and when those things can teach the little rascals something we want to buy them even more.

Products like an Amazon Fire Kids tablet. Or a kids Prime Book Box subscription. Or even their own colorful Echo Dot Kids Edition.

Part of the reason is that these products are really good. They're not just dumbed-down versions of the adult-branded models with have kid-friendly features. As an adult, part of me knows that buying a child their own tablet will help teach them something. Whether that's reading, math or something more artistic like drawing or music, a kid will end up learning something no matter how hard he or she resists. To put me at ease a bit, Amazon includes ways to manage what kids can do on the device, monitor what they are doing, and shut it all down in case they try to slip one past you, the parent.

Amazon FreeTime is one of the best service ideas to come out of any tech company.

Which brings up the real question once again — why do services like Amazon FreeTime and hardware like a Fire HD Kids Edition best anything Google has to offer? I understand the part where Google is an advertisement company geared towards adult consumers, and Amazon's retail presence gives it more kid-appeal, but that's not enough of a justification.

Google has to know that it benefits by letting me pull my child into an ad-free and tracking-free kid-friendly experience through products of its own. The kids will grow up and be familiar with the Google way and remember it when they start to buy products of their own. This is half (or more) the reason Google wants Chromebooks in every school on earth.

I have to think Amazon is just better at it. There's no shame in that; someone has to be the best at anything. Google offers kid-friendly features and parental software of its own, and while it's not bad it just isn't as good as what Amazon offers. Google needs to change that, especially now that Chrome tablets are a thing.

Ask any primary school teacher and they will probably tell you it's best to start a very young child with a tablet as a teaching aid instead of a laptop. They are easier to hold, they are more interactive, and they garner more attention because kids love to touch things to experience the world. I might want a Chrome tablet to read in bed or lay back on the couch without a laptop. Young kids in the first few years of their education need a tablet to get a better learning experience. A Chrome tablet that can be administered to be educational during school and study hours and edutaining during the early evening or weekends must become a viable competitor to Amazon. I don't think Amazon has plans to tap into the education sector and do it, but I know several kids who would love to have such a thing.

Google is a software company that could make its existing software more kid-friendly.

Google has plenty of the hard stuff figured out. It has a pretty good set of admin tools for things like Chromebooks or Google Apps accounts. When you make a product with access to the internet but design it for a child, these sorts of tools are mandatory. It's not a stretch to think that some of these ideas and how they work could make for an excellent FreeTime-style competitor where kids could have all the music or books or approved apps they want, but only when the parents say they should have them. Amazon had to do it from the ground up and the company's first version is pretty darn spectacular.

I'm not saying Google needs to release a blue or pink Nexus 7 tablet refresh, put half-baked parental controls on it and call it a day. I'm saying the company needs to think about how it can integrate kid-friendly services and parental controls into the Android and Chrome ecosystem.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.