An Apple Watch with Family Setup is an expensive smart watch for your kids

An Apple Watch with Family Setup is an expensive smart watch for your kids

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Probably the most fascinating Apple Watch product Apple introduced this yr wasn’t the brand new flagship Sequence 6 or the brand new lower-cost Watch SE. It wasn’t watchOS 7 with its handful of latest watchfaces, the facility to trace your sleep, or discover while you’re washing your arms to reprimand you in the event you don’t cross the total 20 seconds both.

Probably the most fascinating factor is Apple’s new Circle of relatives Setup provider, which we could oldsters provision an Apple Wait for their children to make use of. They are able to make a selection what apps and services and products their children can get entry to, who they may be able to name or ship messages to, and observe their location via GPS. Although you’re now not a father or mother, the brand new Circle of relatives Setup provider is fascinating as it offers us an concept of what a in reality standalone Apple Watch might be.

For the previous few weeks, I’ve strapped an Apple Watch SE to my eight-year-old kid to look what the brand new Circle of relatives Setup provider is like to make use of in the actual global (or no less than as actual of an enjoy as I will get in the course of pandemic lockdown). Right here’s what I’ve realized.

Giving your child an Apple Watch with Circle of relatives Setup is handing them a full-fledged smartwatch.

One of the best ways to consider Circle of relatives Setup is it’s Apple’s take at the GPS monitoring smartwatches for youngsters which have been bought through carriers for the previous few years. Oldsters like the ones units for his or her skill to look the place their kid’s location is at any given time and take a look at in with them by way of textual content message or calls. Past that, the elemental watches may observe some easy health metrics and inform the time, however they’re some distance from full-fledged smartwatches. Their designs are incessantly chunky and kid-friendly, and their person interfaces are simplified down with large buttons and colourful graphics. The parental control apps for smartphones are in a similar fashion elementary and now not particularly delightful to make use of. There can also be knowledge privateness considerations, as occasionally the corporations that make those watches aren’t as protected or have worse knowledge insurance policies than Apple.

Circle of relatives Setup is somewhat other. As a substitute of being a devoted instrument only designed for youngsters, it’s only a style that you just allow on a cellular-enabled Apple Watch. You wish to have an iPhone to configure it, however past that, the Watch isn’t paired to any particular instrument, in contrast to the usual machine that calls for you to hyperlink an Apple Watch with an iPhone.

A Circle of relatives Setup Apple Watch has a majority of the features of the Apple Watch that you just or I may acquire and use. It has all the identical watchfaces, together with their deep ranges of customization; comes with lots of the identical preinstalled apps; can use Apple’s services and products like iMessage, Song, Siri, and extra; and may also set up apps from the App Retailer that’s at the Watch itself.

Whilst you hand a Circle of relatives Setup Apple Watch in your child, you might be giving them a full-fledged smartwatch

That suggests if you end up handing a Circle of relatives Setup Apple Watch in your child, you might be handing them a full-fledged smartwatch with all the features and tasks related to it. It’s not more sturdy than another Apple Watch, it must be charged each day, and it may be as open or as restricted in features as you make a decision. The interface isn’t any other from watchOS 7, this means that there’s nonetheless the fiddly constellation of app icons while you press the crown, faucet components are fairly small, and there’s a large number of textual content to learn. Relying at the age of your kid, this interface can both be simply advantageous or a problem to make use of — on the very least, I like to recommend switching the app launcher to the record view for more straightforward get entry to.

It’s additionally simply as dear as another Apple Watch. To make use of Circle of relatives Setup, you wish to have to have a Watch with mobile connectivity after which join a provider plan via your provider, which runs about $10 per 30 days. The Apple Watch SE with LTE is the lowest-cost new type that Apple sells that’s suitable, and it begins at $329. You’ll be able to use Circle of relatives Setup with one thing as previous as a Sequence 4, however because the overwhelming majority of folks don’t purchase the mobile variations of the Apple Watch, it’s not going that you just’ll have one to move all the way down to a child or in finding an excellent deal at the secondhand marketplace.

That charge is 2 to 3 instances up to what you’ll be able to get a elementary GPS monitoring stay up for, and it’s undeniably some huge cash to spend on a machine that you just’re going to strap to a child’s wrist. As I realized when reviewing the Apple Watch SE, it doesn’t take much to break an Apple Watch, and fixing it isn’t cheap. You can add AppleCare to the Watch just like any other Apple device to provide some insurance against breakage, but that’s even more to spend up front.

Family Setup still allows for most of the Apple Watch’s functions.

The highlight feature for a lot of parents will likely be the GPS tracking capabilities, which neatly integrate into Apple’s existing Find My app. You can see where your child is, set up notifications for when they arrive or leave a specific location, and even get an alert if they aren’t at an expected location at a specific time.

Testing that feature has been challenging during the pandemic-related lockdown we’re currently in since my kid rarely leaves our home, and when they do, I’m generally with them. I was able to get an alert for when they arrived at school, and I can check the Find My app to confirm that they are indeed at school when they are supposed to be. But with no extracurriculars and no play dates at friends’ houses happening now, this feature has had limited utility.

The list of features that do work on the Apple Watch with Family Setup is far longer than what’s not supported, which includes Podcasts, Remote, Apple News, Home, and Shortcuts. Messages, phone calls, walkie talkie, watchfaces, timers, alarms, stopwatch, Reminders, Calendar, Breathe, Maps, weather, and Voice Memos are all fully functional in Family Setup. Your child can ask Siri for weather reports, to set timers, send messages, and perform most other tasks short of controlling smart home gadgets.

A unique Family Setup feature is the new Schooltime mode, which is an extreme downtime feature that effectively locks out every capability of the Watch outside of telling the time. When Schooltime is enabled, a special school bus-yellow watchface is displayed that only shows the time and date. Apple says this is designed to make it easy for teachers to see if the Watch is locked from a distance.

Parents can program what time Schooltime is enabled and disabled based on the school schedule of their child. Since Schooltime locks out everything, including the ability to send messages or receive notifications, the child can unlock it if they need to use the Watch for something. Each unlock is reported in the parent’s Apple Watch app.

The Apple Watch will also track your child’s fitness activity, though there are some limitations here. High and low heart rate notifications are limited to ages 13 and up, fall detection is only available for those over the age of 18, and irregular heart rhythm notifications, EKG, cycle tracking, sleep tracking, and blood oxygen sensing aren’t available at all under Family Setup. Those limitations make Family Setup less ideal for elder care uses, where you’d likely want to monitor for things like irregular heart rhythm or falls and have the ability to spot-check EKG readings.

If the Apple Watch wearer is under the age of 13, the Activity app will track the number of minutes they’ve moved as opposed to active calories, as it does for adults. This is designed to keep kids from focusing on calorie consumption, but I think it would be beneficial for everyone if Apple transitioned away from counting calorie burn full stop. Workout tracking is still available, so a child can track runs and other activities. My kid has particularly enjoyed measuring the distance of their bike rides using the cycling tracking feature and has unsurprisingly gotten attached to closing their rings by the end of the day, a feeling many Apple Watch wearers are familiar with.

Lastly, Family Setup on an Apple Watch also supports Apple Cash, so a wearer can purchase items using it where Apple Pay is accepted. Parents can set up an Apple Cash card on their phone and then link it to the child’s Watch. Funds can be added by sending a text message to the Watch, which the child taps to add to their card. Parents can also get notifications when money is spent or sent from the card, limit who a child can send money to, see a record of transactions in the Wallet app on their iPhone, and remotely lock the ability to use the Apple Cash card on the Watch.

The Schooltime mode is an aggressive lockout that prevents the use of most features and receiving notifications.

Setting up Family Setup on an Apple Watch is not unlike setting up an Apple Watch for yourself. The main difference is that you need to create an Apple ID for your child during the process, which the Watch app on the iPhone walks you through. The setup also walks you through enabling approval for App Store purchases; setting up the necessary cellular connection and subscribing to a plan through your carrier; setting fitness tracking goals; turning on Messages; and more.

You are also prompted to set up which contacts will show up on the Watch and who your child will be allowed to communicate with using the Watch. This is an important step. When I initially set up the Watch for my child, I breezed through this without setting it up properly, and it took less than a day for spam texts and calls to start showing up on their Watch.

Since setting up a cellular connection requires attaching an actual phone number to the Watch, your child is open to whatever database that phone number has been in. Limiting who they can contact and, more importantly, who can contact them prevents spammers and randoms from sending them messages or calling the Watch. Messages from unapproved contacts that are sent to the Watch will still show up in the Messages app, though you aren’t able to read their contents. I wish Apple would just block them entirely so my kid doesn’t have to deal with periodically deleting them.

Beyond the initial setup, things get a bit wonkier from the parent’s side. Instead of doing everything through the Apple Watch app, as you might expect, some features in Family Setup are managed in the Watch app, others are managed in the Screen Time settings page, while others still are accessed through the Apple Health app. Tracking your child’s location and setting up location alerts is done via the Find My app, an entirely different app from the three already mentioned. It’s confusing and hard to remember what setting is where; a consolidated place for all of this would make it a lot easier.

The most important parental control options are in the Screen Time section of the iPhone’s Settings app.

The Screen Time settings are the most important. Once you’ve set up the Watch and added your child to your family, you will be able to access your child’s Screen Time page in the Screen Time section of the Settings app on your iPhone. From there, you can enable downtime schedules, turn on communication limits for both normal and downtime periods, manage which apps are allowed to be used on the Watch, and control the content and privacy features. This allows you to enable or disable App Store and iTunes purchases, limit explicit content, and further control who your child can interact with through features like Game Center. It’s quite comprehensive, though it does take a fair amount of time to go through all of the options and understand what they do and how they will impact the experience for your child.

During my testing, I ran into a bug where I was unable to turn on the content and privacy restrictions at all. The solution wasn’t obvious – I had to sign out of iCloud on my iPhone and sign back in, which resolved it.

The only feature that’s managed in the Apple Watch app on your iPhone is the Schooltime schedule, where you can program schedules for it and see a report of how many times your child bypassed the lock.

Managing the Schooltime mode is in the Apple Watch app, while the GPS tracking features are in the Find My app.

In the few weeks we’ve been testing Family Setup, my kid has mostly used the Memoji watchface and customized a bunch of Memoji of themselves and their siblings. They have liked using the cycling workout feature to see how long their bike rides are, asking Siri for weather reports when getting dressed in the morning, and sending messages to their parents or grandparents. They also like being able to close their Activity rings each day. Battery life has been right around Apple’s prediction of 14 hours: my kid wears the Watch from about 7:30AM to 7:30PM, and there’s typically 15–20 percent battery life when they take it off.

Beyond that, the limitations of Family Setup and the fact that the Watch is not paired to a specific phone have diminished its usefulness. It’s extremely difficult to get things like calendar events, which are very useful when managing remote schooling, syncing on the Watch, due to the fact that it’s not actually paired to a phone. The Schooltime lockout mode is so aggressive that I can’t send emergency messages to my child, nor can they see any reminders or calendar entries without bypassing the lock. The Schooltime lock even prevented me from getting a notification each time my child leaves school because it blocked the notification on the Watch that requires them to approve the recurring alert. (It’s a privacy feature. One-time location alerts do not need approval, but the Watch does inform the wearer each time an alert is sent to the parent’s phone.)

It’s clear that Apple designed the Schooltime for a normal school schedule, where a student goes to school from the morning to the mid-afternoon and shouldn’t really have a need for any smartwatch features. But in our current situation of hybrid remote and in-school learning, the Schooltime mode is too restrictive. Apple suggests customizing a special downtime mode that allows certain apps and notifications through instead, but that’s another level of work and management for the parent.

The other features also feel designed for a different time. As mentioned, my kid isn’t exactly traveling to multiple places much right now, so the need to track their whereabouts isn’t especially valuable. The Apple Cash support has not had any utility for us in our daily life because, again, my kid isn’t actually going anywhere without me or my spouse. There are just very few instances where they’d need to buy something on their own and didn’t have some cash provided to them for that purpose.

I can’t fault Apple for this. It’s obvious that Family Setup was in the works well before the pandemic disrupted everything about our lives, and it’s possible that when things do return to normal, these are features that I’d be looking to utilize. It’s also possible that the value of certain features will become more apparent as my kid gets older and more independent. But right now, the value of having a smartwatch on my eight-year-old’s wrist is not especially high.

Memoji on the Apple Watch.

Value is certainly subjective, but there’s no denying that an Apple Watch with Family Setup has a high cost. It’s also something that has a limited shelf life with your kid. Apple says it designed the service for kids ages five and up, but as mentioned, even my eight-year-old isn’t independent enough to really make use of most of what it offers. Older kids can take more advantage of it, but it won’t be long before they will not be satisfied with a watch managed by mommy and daddy and will just want an iPhone of their own. That leaves a rather narrow band of age ranges for which Family Setup provides an appropriate amount of utility relative to its cost.

As a parent who will have multiple kids hitting the age where they will want a smartphone in their lives in the near future, I’d really like to see the parental controls and content restrictions available in Family Setup extended to accounts that can be used on a full-fledged iPhone. Right now, many parents rely on third-party apps and device management services to lock down and track the devices their children have. It’d be a lot better if Apple just supported all of this natively. Perhaps that’s on the company’s roadmap. It certainly feels like an obvious evolution of Family Setup.

But for now, Family Setup is limited to the Apple Watch, and it’s not quite the same as a smartphone. For my family, it doesn’t provide enough utility to justify the cost, pandemic lockdown or not. For others, if you’ve been eyeing one of the GPS tracking watches but either didn’t trust the manufacturer or didn’t feel like they are good products, Family Setup does provide a known experience from a company that’s widely trusted when it comes to support and privacy. That trust and experience just come at a cost.

Photography by Dan Seifert / The Verge

Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to the Apple Cash feature as Apple Pay or Apple Card, which is incorrect. We’ve updated the mentions to be accurate and regret the error.

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