Amazon launches Kindle FreeTime Unlimited for children. Your move, Apple…

We know that lots of children are using their parents’ tablets – mainly iPads – to play games, read stories and watch TV shows. Now Amazon has announced a new service called Kindle FreeTime Unlimited that pushes this idea on a bit.

It’s aimed at 3-8 year-olds, and for now is tied into Amazon’s own Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD tablets. The idea: you as a parent pay a flat monthly subscription – $4.99 per child or $9.99 per family (yes, it’s US-only at the moment) – to get unlimited access to a hand-picked selection of apps, games, TV shows and films.

There are some famous names working with Amazon on this too: Disney, DC Comics, Nickelodeon, HIT Entertainment, Sesame Workshop and other children’s entertainment brands.

Or, to explain it in terms of the characters and games/shows who’ll be appearing in the FreeTime Unlimited service: Elmo, Dora the Explorer, Thomas & Friends, Buzz Lightyear, Where’s My Water?, Bob the Builder, Cut the Rope, Kung Fu Panda, Shrek, Looney Tunes, Superman, SpongeBob SquarePants, Yo Gabba Gabba, Garfield and the Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Amazon says that none of the apps or games will include in-app purchases, adverts or connections to social networks, and that it’ll be carefully choosing content that’s appropriate for children. The idea being that they can then choose what to download rather than having to ask their parents.

Here’s the blurb from VP of Amazon Kindle Peter Larsen: “As a parent it’s hard to predict what my daughter is going to enjoy, or which movie she’s going to watch 50 times in a row — so I buy a range of content and hope for the best — but I get it wrong frequently. “FreeTime Unlimited gives kids the freedom to explore age-appropriate content on their own and pick for themselves what they want to watch, play or read next.”

We think this is a big deal: it’s quite possibly the first really convincing reason for a parent to choose a tablet other than the iPad for their child to use. Up until now, the huge selection of children’s apps available on Apple’s App Store has made it the obvious choice in this regard.

That’s why we’re wondering how Apple will respond. For some time now we’ve wished Apple would launch a dedicated Kids category on its App Store, to make it easier for parents to find new apps for their children. Maybe that’s thinking too small though: what about a proper Kids’ Zone (“iKids”?) that also includes TV shows, films and music?

It’s still too early to judge how appealing Amazon’s Kindle FreeTime Unlimited will be for parents and kids: a lot will depend on how regularly it gets new stuff to download, and how good that stuff is. It certainly looks to be on the right track with its launch partners though.

2013 may well be a year of exciting developments for children’s entertainment on tablets. Rest assured, we’ll be covering all these developments as they come: and we’ll keep you posted on when Amazon’s service makes it across the Atlantic to the UK and other countries too.

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