That's good news. It's apparently a response to a letter from two large shareholders, Jana and CalSTRS.
However, so far the details aren't clear, and it seems that Apple is trying to figure out exactly what "protecting kids" means, in terms of iPhone features. It's also deciding whether to do its own study on kids' mental health and device use (something Jana and CalSTRS asked for).
Fortunately, there is already a wealth of information out there, including reviews by mental health professionals and a position paper by the American Academy of Pediatrics on kids and screen time. If Apple wants to get serious about protecting kids, its kid-friendly iOS update--due in June, apparently--needs to let parents to do the following things:
1. Limit overall device time
This is the easiest; in "parent mode," parents need to be able to set the maximum number of minutes that the phone can be used per 24-hour period (with an exception for emergencies, of course). For kids between 2 and 5, it should be no more than an hour per day according to the AAP. It goes up from there by age, but not as much as you might think.
2. Limit time by app
Not all apps are created equally. Parents should be able to carve out part of the overall allowed time and allocate it to specific, kid-safe apps. They should also be able to disallow use of any app that isn't on their approved list.
3. Limit advertising
This will cut into profits of course, but children's brains are less developed than adults', and so they're much more susceptible to advertising. Thus, in parent mode, parents should be able to disable targeted ads--or even disable all advertisements for a limited time.
4. Limit hours regardless
Beyond the overall time limits in No. 1, parents need to be able to disable functionality during certain hours: say from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. (or whatever is most appropriate, given the child's age). The last thing kids need is for phone addiction to interfere with their sleep.
5. Limit apps and content
Great new apps come out all the time. So do nefarious ones. Parents need to have an easy way to limit the apps that can be downloaded and used. They also need much more robust tools to filter out inappropriate or annoying content via Safari. Personally, I would love a function that would let my toddler daughter look through our family photos on my phone (she loves this), but disable switching to other apps without a passcode.
6. Notify or mirror
Kids are clever. As they get older, they'll be more tech savvy than we are, and even the best-behaved kids will be tempted to try to override some of the features Apple builds into parent mode. That's why it's important for there to be some kind of feature that will notify parents if their kids try to hack their way to more tech freedom than they should have.
7. Count down
If we're going to limit device time, it makes sense to have a display that lets kids know how much time they have left. Besides avoiding frustration, this will be good for kids' self-awareness. For younger kids, it will give them more of a sense of time, even beyond the confines of their devices.