How the iPhone is changing how we parent
Wednesday, March 03, 2010
Remember when you used to mark your child's growth in pencil on the kitchen door frame?
That's so 2005.
Today, there's an app for that. And ones to predict your best chance of conceiving, record your nursing schedule and graph your baby's diaper changes. You can put your child in timeout, find the nearest public bathroom and keep track of your child's medication, all from the palm of your hand.
Welcome to the world of iParenting.
The iPhone isn't just a must-have accessory for twenty-something professionals anymore. It's a digital diaper bag, stuffed with ways to spruce up, streamline and drag the ancient art of parenting into the new decade.
"If you can make a parent's life even a little bit easier, that's huge," says Ken Denmead, a technology blogger for Wired magazine and author of a new book on family-friendly tech projects. "And if you can do it in a way that's both cool and convenient, that's even better. The iPhone does just that. You're looking at the next generation of parenting tools."
Slideshow | 8 Must-have iPhone apps for parents
The mother of invention
Back in 2008, Darren Andes was a web developer at a major financial firm in New York. Then the markets tanked, his firm went under and he needed a back-up plan.
He also needed a better way to keep track of his then 1-year-old daughter.
"I would come home and the nanny would have this sheet of paper filled out about how my daughter slept, when she ate, what she did," Andes says. "Maybe it's just the computer geek in me, but I figured there had to be a better way to do this."
So Andes jumped into the world of iPhone development. It started with Baby Tracker: Nursing, which debuted in 2008 for moms who wanted to record and track their feeding sessions. (The main screen's options are "left" and "right" and Andes admits he learned more about nursing than he ever cared to know). Then came Baby Tracker: Diapers, and then Total Baby Tracker, the mother of all baby scrapbooks.
The app, which took Andes a year to make, lets parents record when their child sleeps, eats, takes a bath, laughs, burps, speaks, walks or does just about anything else. Parents can graph the data or export daily logs to their computers.
It joins the ranks of thousands of other apps designed to do one thing: make parents' lives easier. One lets users create a grocery list, complete with UPC codes and aisle numbers for easy shopping trips. Another turns the iPhone into an on-the-go baby monitor; if baby wakes up and trips the alarm, the app automatically calls a preset phone number to alert mom and dad. A "digital pillbox" app helps parents keep track of their kids' medicine regimens.
The best apps, Andes says, are designed by parents themselves, giving new meaning to the old saying about necessity being the mother of invention.
"It's guys like myself who have kids and think 'Wouldn't it be cool if there were a better, techier way to be a parent?'" Andes says. "So we're making one."
In the 1990s, advertisers went gaga over "soccer moms," middle- and upper-class mothers who were socially savvy, well-connected to their communities and involved in household decision-making.
Move over, soccer moms. Here comes the "iPhone mom."
That was the title of a series of reports released by the media marketing firm Greystripe last year. Greystripe found that moms with kids make up almost a third of all iPhone users. They also tend to be educated, financially stable and the family shopper -- a recipe for market power.
"The 'iPhone mom' is a term we use around the office, and certainly around the industry," says Katie Berk, marketing manager at Greystripe. "It's becoming a mainstream label.
And it's one that Heather Leister, a 34-year-old mom of four, wears proudly. She's the woman behind "The iPhone Mom" blog, which, in addition to reviewing apps for parents and kids, is something of a cultural meeting place for iPhone-wielding parents.
"I get e-mails every day from moms -- and more than a few dads -- who sort of see themselves as part of this group," says Leister, who lives in Boise, Idaho. "We're kind a new type of parent."
And corporate America is starting to take notice, launching mobile apps aimed directly at moms.
Need to know the best way to attack a fresh ketchup stain? Tide's "Stain Brain" app takes care of that. Looking for your afternoon caffeine fix? Starbucks' new store locator to the rescue. And General Mills, the packaged goods giant, has taken a swing at every mom's favorite question -- "What's for dinner?" -- with its Betty Crocker Mobile Cookbook
Bucking the trend
Adapters of new technology, from early cell phones to video games to GPS devices, have tended to be young men, which makes the iPhone's popularity with parents -- particularly its following among middle-aged women -- so unusual.
The reason? The iPhone is easy to use, with little to no learning curve, says Nick Perez, the Apple expert at the Best Buy in Chicago's Bucktown neighborhood. He says most of the parents who come to him for iPhone advice admit they're not tech-savvy.
"That's usually the first thing out of their mouth," he says. "But when parents see how intuitive it is and all the ways it can help them out, they're sold."
Perez, who has two daughters himself, says he and his wife used to be "sticky-note parents." One to remind them when to pick up the kids from practice, one for last-minute grocery store items, one to remember when to give the kids their medicine.
Now, he says, they're iPhone parents.
"There are a million-and-one things that parents have to do on a daily basis," he says. "Now it's all right there on their phones."