How to Build a Parental Control App on Android
The Internet is a boon for parents since it unlocks uplifting content that can help in the holistic growth of their children. At the same time, criminals prowl all over the Internet, trying to trap children into their nefarious designs.
Parents must know about the online life of their kids so that they can help them steer clear from danger. Parental control apps now have a growing demand. If you’re an entrepreneur trying to tap into this market, then you ought to read this guide on how to build a parental control app on Android.
What drives the demand for parental control apps?
The following statistics explain why parents increasingly feel the need to control their kids’ online activities:
- A survey in the US showed that as of January 2018, 42% Americans with an annual household income of $100k or above reported that their children owned a smartphone. Read more about this survey in “Media devices owned by children in the United States as of January 2018, by household income”.
- Another 2017 survey, again in the US, had 65% of the responding parents stating that their kids use smartphone apps. This survey also shows that 73% of the parents indicated that their kids consume video contents on smartphones. You can find more details of this survey in “Which of the following activities has your child ever carried out on a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet?”.
Such widespread use of smartphones by children naturally make their parents anxious, therefore, parents try to help children achieve a healthy balance between the online world and family.
Between May 2018 and May 2019, 3.01% of all parental control notifications were triggered by kids playing online games, whereas the consumption of adult content triggered 2.08% of the notifications. 5.53% of these notifications were triggered when children used obscene language. You can read about these statistics in “Distribution of parental control notifications during child online usage from May 2018 to May 2019”.
An example of an effective parental control app
Let’s review an effective parental control app so that you can understand what you should offer. FamilyTime is a popular parental control app, and it offers the following features and advantages:
- Parents can control the time kids spend on smartphones and tablets.
- They can limit device access during study hours or in hours reserved for chores.
- Children need sound sleep, and FamilyTime helps with this by enabling parents to limit screen time during the night.
- The app enables parents to lock their kids’ devices during homework time.
- Parents can block adult content, moreover, they can activate SafeSearch so that kids don’t stumble on the wrong kind of content. The web filter feature allows parents to block kids’ access to specific content categories.
- Parents don’t want their kids to venture into unsafe places, and FamilyTime helps them with this. The app has a geofencing feature, and parents get alert messages as soon as their kids enter places they shouldn’t visit.
- FamilyTime enables parents to get a detailed location history of all places their kids visit.
- Social media is wonderful, however, they can distract children from important aspects of life such as studies or fun with the family. Parents can block social media or games from their kids’ devices using FamilyTime.
- This app also helps parents monitor calls and text messages of their kids.
- The app treats data privacy seriously, for both children and parents.
- Parents can manage multiple devices with FamilyTime, share the control with partners, and prevent kids from uninstalling FamilyTime.
- Children can let their parents know where to pick them up from, by just pressing one button.
How to create a parental control app on Android
I will explain the steps you need to take to create a parental control app on Android, and these are as follows:
1. Define the project scope
I recommend that you include the following features in this Android app:
- Parents should be able to set time limits on device usage.
- The app should allow parents to restrict the device usage on specific days, moreover, they should be able to relax these restrictions on holidays.
- Parents should be able to share control of the app with their partners.
- They should be able to block apps and unsuitable content.
- The app should allow parents to monitor device usage by their kids.
- This app needs the push notifications feature.
- It should have a payment gateway integration which will enable users to easily upgrade to the premium version.
2. Choose the right project methodology
A parental control app could have several more features, as the example of FamilyTime shows. I recommend that you launch a “Minimum Viable Product” (MVP) with the above-mentioned features, and launch the app in one geography to start with.
Later, you can enhance the app based on market feedback, e.g., you can add the geo-fencing feature. Agile is the right methodology for this kind of iterative development, and I recommend that you use it in this project. Read “Waterfall vs Agile: Which methodology is right for your project” to learn why Agile suits this project.
3. Plan for expanding into other geographies in the future
A parental control app could have a worldwide market, and you should design and develop the app in a manner that makes it easy to launch it in other geographies. There are several best practices for this, e.g., keeping the content separate from the code. These guidelines fall in the ambit of “app internationalization”, and you can learn them in “The ultimate guide to mobile app internationalization”.
4. Formulate a development approach
I recommend that you use the following development approach for this project:
- Use a “Mobile Backend as a Service” (MBaaS) platform since it frees you up from the tasks of mobile backend development and management. This expedites development.
- Utilize “Software Development Kits” (SDKs) and “Application Programming Interfaces” (APIs) to implement the key features, which saves time.
Read “What is the best development approach to guarantee the success of your app?” to understand the value of this approach.
5. Form a development team
You need a development team with the following roles:
- Business analysts (BAs);
- UI designers;
- Android developers;
- A project manager (PM).
I recommend that you use the “Scrum” technique to execute this project, which is suitable for Agile development. Organize your team into small, cross-functional “scrum teams” where developers and testers work together on “Sprints”, i.e., iterations.
The PM should perform the role of the “Scrum master”, and build an empowered team that delivers business value. Consult our guide “How to build a scrum development team?” for more insights. The PM should also use a robust tool like Asana to manage this project.
6. Sign-up with an MBaaS provider
I recommend that you sign-up for AWS Amplify, i.e., the MBaaS platform from AWS, and get the following advantages:
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- You can focus on the UI design and developing the business logic, instead of mobile backend development and management. This way, you don’t need to hire mobile backend developers, cloud platform architects, and infrastructure engineers.
- MBaaS providers manage cloud infrastructure and persistent storage.
- There are various mobile platforms and devices, which can complicate mobile app development. Using an MBaaS platform helps in managing this complexity.
- You can easily integrate 3rd party APIs, moreover, you can implement user management, security, and push notifications features easily when you use an MBaaS platform.
- Scaling your app is easier with an MBaaS platform.
You can read “How to choose the best mobile backend as a service (MBaaS)?” for a deeper understanding of these benefits.
7. Get an SDK/API solution to implement the parental control feature
I recommend that you use Allow2, an open-source project that offers parental control solutions, for this Android app development. Allow2 has a patented solution for parental control, and it offers the following features and advantages:
- You can add fast and simple parental control mechanisms in your app.
- App users can enforce parental control on mobile apps, websites, and social media platforms.
- Parents can apply restrictions, e.g., they can remove privileges.
- They can also set up days in the calendar when restrictions will apply, moreover, they can relax these curbs on certain days.
- Parents can share control with their partners.
Allow2 has several SDKs, and you can view them on its developer portal. You need to use the Allow2 Java SDK since you are developing an Android app. This is an open-source product, however, you should check out the licensing guidelines before you use it. You can create a developer account here.
8. Procure an encryption SDK/API solution
You should take appropriate measures to secure users’ data, therefore, I recommend that you use the AWS Encryption SDK for this project. Note the following quick facts about this SDK:
- It uses “Advanced Encryption Standard” (AES) with 256-bit encryption, and you can read more about it in “Supported algorithm suites in the AWS Encryption SDK”.
- You need to use the AWS Encryption SDK for Java in this project.
- Read this guide to understand how the SDK works, and you can use this SDK documentation to help with the development.
- AWS also provides sample code, and you can find it here.
9. Sign-up for a bulk SMS API solution
You need to implement the push notifications feature in your app, therefore, I recommend that you use Twilio, a reputed provider of bulk SMS API solutions. Take the following steps:
- Review the Twilio “Programmable SMS” solution.
- Check out its documentation here, moreover, read “Messaging services and copilot” for more guidance.
- Review the Twilio pricing plan, and procure this solution.
10. Get a payment gateway integration solution
At this point, you need to get a payment gateway integration SDK/API solution. I recommend that you use Stripe for this project since it provides fast, scalable and secure payment gateway integration.
Check out the following resources:
- Stripe payment gateway integration documentation;
- This guide to implementing card payment;
- The Stripe API reference documentation;
- This guide to using the Stripe Android SDK.
You can find its pricing information here.
11. Sign-up for a test automation aid
There are many mobile devices and versions, and you should test the app on all of these. This isn’t easy with the commonly used open-source test automation frameworks, therefore, I recommend that you use test automation aids from Experitest. Sign-up for the following:
- Its “Mobile device & browser lab” on the cloud, which helps you to access a wide range of devices;
- “SeeTest Reporter”, which provides robust test reports and analytics.
12. The mobile app UI design
Now that you have arranged for platforms, SDKs, APIs, and frameworks, you can go ahead with the mobile app UI design. You should use the following guides for this:
- Material design guidelines, which are important for Android app UI design;
- “A comprehensive guide to mobile app design”;
- “10 do’s and don’ts of mobile UX design”, which is a useful guide from Adobe.
13. Code, test, and publish the Android app
You can now commence the Android app development, which involves the following steps:
- Use Android Studio, which is the “Integrated Development Environment” (IDE) of choice for Android developers.
- Code the app using Java, however, check out the licensing requirements before that.
- You can read “Build your first Android app in Java” for guidance.
- Integrate Allow2, AWS encryption, Twilio, and Stripe SDKs/APIs in the app.
- Use Espresso with the Experitest mobile device lab to test the app.
- Publish the app to Google Play, by using this guide.
Planning to launch a parental control app on Android?
Platforms, SDKs, APIs, frameworks, and tools certainly help in developing the MVP, however, developing a parental control app on Android is complex. Adding features such as geo-fencing increases the complexity manifold, and you should consider taking help from a reputed software development company for this project. Our guide “How to find the best software development company?” will help you to conduct due diligence before you hire a development partner.