|iPhone Girl. picture by flickr user merfam / Jason Meredith|
Bear in mind that this is not a conventional review of the iPhone 5, rather, our focus here is if it is a good device for children. We won't go through all the new features the phone has, or if it's a good value at its price and compared to its competitors. There is no lack of that information on other technology sites. Now that that's been cleared up, here we go:
What's in a smartphone?The iPhone 5 is the latest in Apple's series of smartphones. As a smartphone, it features a touch control interface, a sleek and practical design, cameras, and what amounts to a microcomputer inside a phone. More than making calls or sending text messages, smartphones can access the internet wirelessly and download applications from a proprietary store that handle practically any task you can think of. The iPhone comes with incremental and significant improvements from the iPhone 4S, including a bigger screen, a lighter build and a new custom SOC/integrated circuit called A6.
Parental controlsEvery new iPhone comes with improved features every time, but when we're talking child safety, changes are subtler, but still good to note. From iOS 5 to iOS 6, parental controls are significantly improved. iOS 5 started parental restrictions, allowing you to control which apps they can install, whether they can delete software, etc. iOS 6 adds to that Guided Access, allowing you to disable certain parts of the User Interface itself, as well as Single App Mode, which keeps the phone locked into the current app so a child would not be able to move it somewhere else.
Now, here's the truth; the changes iOS 6 adds make the iPhone 5 safer for children, but it's not necessarily safe or sufficient per se. All you get to do is open or close up access to an app or a feature on the phone. If all you used were Apple's default parental controls, you had to choose between giving your child access to the web or not at all. Of course, other applications would benefit from limited, not necessarily closed controls.
A recent study reveals that Android is actually a safer OS than iOS. It gives you more things to control, and a greater degree of control over them. If you already own an Android device, you may want to consider giving you child access to that instead. If you just want to give your child an iPhone, however, there should be no reason to worry. 3rd party apps can compensate and give iOS 6 the layer of parental controls you need, as well as older iPhone models. If there's anything Apple is known for, it's having a robust App store.
Should you track your child through your phone?Speaking of apps, one of the more popular types of child safety apps allows you to track down the phone holder and tell you where it is at all times. This feels a need for some, but I would tell most parents to think twice before acquiring it. There are debatable issues at play here, involving autonomy, safety and control. If your child spends a lot of time away from you, for whatever reason, you may want to make use of this feature. In general, I would suggest you tell your child that you have made use of the app. They will trust you better, and may even help you out.
What Sherry Turkle says about gadgets and familiesBeyond these surface issues, before you go ahead and buy this device, I would once again cite the work of technology - sociology expert Sherry Turkle. As she explained in her book 'Alone Together', iPhones, tablets, computers and other high tech devices may have adverse affects to the quality, particularly duration, of your personal relationships. Even when we connect with each other via apps and social networks, we may not be making the close connections desired in a family setting.
Now, Turkle is often misinterpreted as generally being down on gadgets, but that's definitely not the case. Rather, she wants users to not just think about how devices improve our lives, but how the devices, in turn, shape our lives, change our behaviors. Do you want devices to shape your child's life from an early age? Many parents 'lend' children their devices to play games or use fun apps. It sounds like a cheap and sensible way to make use of the phone's capabilities, but is this the best approach to introducing your child to these gadgets? As parenting experts will tell you abundantly, these activities are OK for your child in moderation, and they still benefit more from being allowed to play outside and make friends with other children.
Final Considerations:Ultimately, when deciding to buy your child an iPhone 5, age is not as important as autonomy and independence. You will have to make that call if and when your child is ready to own their own iPhone 5. Even if you don't buy it for them, you should make serious consideration of when you 'lend' your iPhone 5 to your child. What applications are you allowing them to use and how long do they get to play it? As easy and convenient as it can be, your iPhone is not a nanny.
So, with all that taken into consideration, should you get your child an iPhone 5? It is a flashy, well engineered, easy and fun to use device, so on that point alone, it's a good purchase for your child. Whether you should get one, or give it to your child to completely own, is entirely up to your discretion.