By Jordan Minor, Neil J. Rubenking
Parental control apps are great tools for keeping kids away from the dangerous corners of the Web, as well letting parents keep an eye on what their kids are up to online, whether it’s on PCs or smartphones.
The problem with parental control apps on the iPhone is that Apple’s strict ecosystem doesn’t let them have much control over the phone, especially compared with the permissive Android environment.
Features such as monitoring apps, messages, and calls just aren’t feasible on iOS—or so we thought. uKnowKids Premier may sacrifice Web filtering, but through its clever use of iCloud, the service offers monitoring functionality we didn’t think was possible in an iPhone app.
That makes it our Editors’ Choice for iPhone parental control apps.
There’s an Android version available as well, although strangely it’s only compatible with phones, not tablets.
Getting StartedAt $100 per year, the uKnowKids Premier overall service costs more than most competing products, but it does let you keep track of four children.
For each child, you can track activity on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and also track one Android smartphone and one iOS device per child.
If you’re convinced you’ll want this service for many years, you can pay $180 for a lifetime subscription.
Either way, there’s an additional one-time fee of $60 if you want to make use of the service’s impressive iOS support. You can try the service for one week without cost, but you do have to enter your credit card information to start the trial.
For more details on the full service, read our full review linked above. We tested the iOS functionality with an iPhone 5s.
Full functionality of uKnowKids requires that you download the separate uKnowMobile companion app to your child’s iPhone.
This app is needed for syncing, location tracking, and geofencing.
That way you can be notified when your child leaves or enters a designated area such as a school or a bad part of town. However, the bulk of parents’ work is done through the Launchpad, uKnowKids’ Web interface. While a dedicated mobile app for parents would’ve been nice, at least uKnowKids adjusts its interface for smaller mobile screens more effectively than competitors do. You can log in to the online Launchpad from any Internet-equipped device—it will make use of whatever screen space you’ve got. On a big-screen PC, you can see the entire Launchpad at once, whereas on a smartphone you see just one piece at a time.
It’s crucial to understand that uKnowKids is just a monitoring tool, not a Web filtering tool.
Every other iPhone parental control app we’ve tested offers a safe browser that prevents kids from visiting naughty websites. uKnowKids is perhaps more geared towards parents of older children who just want to check in on their kids and not smother them in censorship.
The lack of Web filtering sounds like a pretty big deal, but you may not miss it as much as you would think.
iOS already has Web filtering tools built into its Restrictions tab, the same password-protected tab you use for disabling the ability for kids to install and delete apps or make in-app purchases.
That filtering might not be as powerful as dedicated apps such as Mobicip and Net Nanny, but it’s still pretty good. Plus, you have to set up Restrictions anyway to get other parental control apps to function.
So unless you want to shell out for subscriptions to multiple parental control services, we recommended complementing the free, adequate Web filtering of iOS with the impressive monitoring features only found in uKnowKids.
Using uKnowKids on the iPhoneTo unlock the full power of uKnowKids on the iPhone, you must connect it to your child’s iCloud account. Once connected, uKnowKids can report on various kinds of activity.
It captures data about phone calls made, received, or missed, and about SMS/MMS messages sent, received, or deleted.
It can report on all photos taken and photos shared.
Through it you can view your child’s contacts and installed apps.
Most multi-platform parental control systems either omit support for iOS devices or offer limited functionality. Norton and Qustodio, for example, do little more than track location on iOS devices.
That’s because Apple just doesn’t allow the kind of device integration they’d need to offer the same kind of features you find in Android parental control systems.
Because uKnowKids gets most of its data by mining your iCloud backups, it can do everything it does on Android, and more.
It can capture iMessages just the same way it captures texts.
It can report on Twitter direct messages.
And it even records browsing and Web search history.
The caveat is that you won’t get new information until the next iCloud backup.
On an iOS device, uKnowKids adds a number of additional features. We are a little surprised that most of these mobile-specific data items don’t show up in the Feed page in the Launchpad, even though that page specifically offers filters to display only mobile data.
If you want to see mobile-specific data, you have to click the Apple icon on the Launchpad to change the viewing mode.
When it’s in iCloud mode, the Launchpad displays five stats boxes: New Contacts, Recent Calls, Total Apps, Text Messages, and URLs Visited.
Clicking the Text messages box opens the Feed page with the necessary filter applied automatically.
Clicking any of the other four gets an awkward list that slides in from the right-hand side of the screen. When you point at an installed app, a new contact, or other list item, uKnowKids displays more detail in a popup window. However, we found that in many cases the popup blinked rapidly making it hard to read. We’d like to see this mobile-specific information better integrated with the general data feed. uKnowKids gathers iOS data no rival does, so why hide it?
All You Need to KnowiPhone parental control apps are a tough category to judge, because of Apple’s restrictive permissions strategy. Most apps feel like constrained workarounds; and that’s true for uKnowKids, too.
After all, it offers no Web filtering whatsoever.
But what is does offer—monitoring apps, calls, texts, location, and contacts—are useful features you just won’t find in other services on the platform.
So combined with the built-in web filtering of iOS, uKnowKids Premier is our Editors’ Choice for iPhone parental control apps.