Why you should care
It can help negotiate a cease-fire in the parental gadget war.
Until recently, apps in the screen-time-shaving category were for the most part tricked-out egg timers that would block access to websites. It’s a hard-core solution for prying young eyes from their screens, but along with it comes the nagging, tech-withdrawal-fueled backlash of jilted children.
The cross-platform unGlue app goes beyond basic site blocking by introducing a barter system through which kids can earn screen time and budget it as they see fit. For example, a child can wash dishes or fold laundry in exchange for 15 minutes on their device. That earned time can then be divided into, say, five minutes on YouTube and 10 minutes watching their favorite live video game streamers. Or a kid can alternatively save all of their earned time and splurge on a Netflix binge.
That type of digital snitching is a pleasant surprise, especially for folks with slicker kids who may try to game the system.
“It’s not enough to give parents a button that turns off their kids’ internet,” says unGlue’s CEO and co-founder Alon Shwartz. “This may work for young kids, but a brute-force approach doesn’t work for preteens and teens. They simply know more about technology and will find a way out in 60 seconds or less.”
Setting up unGlue is straightforward and doesn’t require a computer engineering degree to figure out. Under the hood, the app connects to another mobile device through a virtual private network to monitor and control all of its internet activity. Initial setup takes about 10 minutes if you’re less than tech savvy, and about half as long if you already know your way around a gadget or two. UnGlue’s dashboard design is clean, informative and simple. It shows all of the important stuff like a kid’s internet usage along with quick options to add time and total shutdown of access to websites and services you’ve predetermined.
Communication between devices is solid, with instantaneous alerts. For example, if the child device’s battery runs out of juice, an immediate alert is sent to the parent device that it’s off the grid. That type of digital snitching is a pleasant surprise, especially for folks with slicker kids who may try to game the system. Still, it can take a few days for some kids to get used to it — in our house, it was a bit of a change from the usual impromptu street-market-style haggling sessions over precious YouTube toy review videos.
The free version of unGlue for iOS and Android allows for monitoring only. You’ll need a yearly ($84) or monthly ($9.99) subscription to unlock all of the app’s features like scheduling screen time and site blocking. While a basic snapshot of activity is cool, it’s worth the annual fee to get everything since there aren’t any features that would go to waste.
Shwartz says there will be updates, but he couldn’t go into detail. This isn’t to say that unGlue isn’t feature-rich enough as it stands; it will just be interesting to see how far team Shwartz is going to take it. “[UnGlue] also teaches kids the value of time,” he adds. “It creates a great win-win with their parents that will gladly give 15 more minutes for a clean room.”