In a bold experiment to differentiate its tablets from the competition, Amazon has launched a new service called Kindle FreeTime Unlimited, which is geared toward kids between 3 and 8 years old, allowing them to access a wide assortment of books, games, apps, and video content after parents ante up a monthly fee.
Amazon is initially offering FreeTime Unlimited, which costs Prime members $2.99 per month per child -- or $6.99 per family -- on the Kindle Fire (2012), Kindle Fire HD, and Kindle Fire Fire HD 8.9. If you're not a Prime member, the monthly fee jumps to $4.99 and $10.99, respectively.
The name of the service is a bit oblique. FreeTime is a parental-control feature on the latest Kindle tablets that allows parents to manage how much time their children spend on Kindle tablets and what content they interact with (you can opt to turn off the Web browser, for instance). With the "Unlimited" version, Amazon is offering up access to "thousands of popular kids titles" on an all-you-can-eat basis.
Looking at it another way, the service is similar to what Amazon is serving up to Prime members in terms of free video streaming of select videos and once-a-month borrowing of titles from the company's Kindle Lending Library -- but FreeTime Unlimited extends into the realm of apps and games and has no restrictions on how many books kids can read per month.
Earlier today I got a short demo of the service in New York and the amount of content available seemed pretty impressive. Amazon lists Andrews McMeel Publishing, Chronicle Books, DC Comics, Disney, HIT Entertainment, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Marvel, Nickelodeon, PBS, and Sesame Workshop among its launch partners.
Peter Larsen, vice president of Amazon Kindle, said that Amazon would add content "practically daily" after the service launched. A free over-the-air software update will get pushed out in the coming weeks that includes the new service, but Amazon didn't commit to a specific day for its rollout.
Larsen highlighted that apps would have all in-app payments, advertisements, and social media removed. He also said that not only would videos be available for streaming, but they could be downloaded for on-the-go-use as well, when a Wi-Fi connection wasn't available. It's unclear which, if any, videos are already available for free streaming to Prime members.
Larsen noted that file sizes for videos could be pretty large, so parents would have to manage just how much video content they would store on a device at one time (movies can be deleted then downloaded again later).
Barnes & Noble is also touting its new multiprofile creation option on its Nook HD and Nook HD+ tablets, so various family members can share a single device and create personal libraries of content. The feature works well, so it's not surprising Amazon is bulking up with personalization options, including a "Characters" tab in FreeTime that allows kids to search for content based on their favorite characters.
As for Amazon launching a premium subscription service for adult-oriented content, Larsen said nothing was in the works but anything was possible.
"We want to see how this goes," he said. "But we think it's a compelling offering for a very affordable price."
Alas, Kindle FreeTime Unlimited won't be available to owners of the original Kindle Fire (2011), but Larsen didn't rule it out coming to that device in the future. Owners of the latest Kindle tablets will get a chance to sample the new service for free for a month -- and we'll take a closer look at it as soon as it hits devices.
In the meantime, you can get more info about Kindle FreeTime Unlimited here.