Ina Fried

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Parent Trap: Microsoft Adds Kid’s Corner to Windows Phone 8

If you can make a parent’s life easier, that’s sure to score you some points with frazzled moms and dads.

That’s the idea behind Kid’s Corner, one of several new features that are part of Windows Phone 8, but that Microsoft had yet to reveal ahead of Monday’s official launch. The new mode allows parents to give kids their own personalized home screen, filled with only the apps and capabilities parents choose to allow.

Kid’s Corner is part of a broader effort by Microsoft to make its phones more appealing. The new models, which are based on full-blown Windows, also add support for multicore processors, improved multitasking and more.

Microsoft is detailing a full set of features, including announcing Kid’s Corner, at an event in San Francisco on Monday.

With this release, Windows Phone head Terry Myerson said Microsoft wants to show that it is different from and better than the competition.

“We have a unique point of view about who we are for,” Myerson said, noting that Windows Phone isn’t out to duplicate Apple or anyone else. “Android decides to copy, that’s their decision, that’s who they are.”

Tough talk aside, Microsoft has thus far failed to make much of a dent in the marketplace.

“There are consumers out there, we know we need to connect with them and (get) the product in their hands,” Myerson said in an interview earlier this month. The features are there, he insists, but adds, “to some extent, it hasn’t shown through.”

As for Kid’s Corner, Microsoft said it was trying to explore some critical times in a parent’s life that a well-crafted smartphone could make easier.

Clearly, one of those moments is when a toddler or young child is cranky, and a parent wants to get a little peace. Handing over the phone has become more common than a pacifier. But, with rival smartphones, giving the kid Angry Birds runs the risk that they might accidentally send an email, make a call or delete important information on the phone.

“That’s an intense moment,” said Microsoft senior program manager Spencer King. “If you can help people get through that, it’s a really pleasing experience.”

The idea of Kid’s Corner is to allow the child to really feel it is their phone. They have their own wallpaper, and can even resize (but not delete) the different app icons on their home screen.

“They can really make it theirs,” King said.

Initially, Microsoft was going to tackle another trying time for parents — crafting a “driving mode” to give parents the peace of mind that comes from knowing that their teens aren’t texting and driving. However, after some months of working on a driving-mode feature, the company decided it couldn’t do it well enough to include it in this release.

“You have to make hard decisions that you know are for the best,” said King, who worked on both driving mode and Kid’s Corner. But, he said, “Man, is it hard when you spent so much time.”

King holds out hope that driving mode will see the light of day.

Microsoft also weighed expanding Kid’s Corner to allow children to call a parent or do other tasks. However, the more features that it considered adding, the less good it seemed the feature would be at its core task — giving parents a way to hand their phone to a child without worry.

“We decided to focus on just the things we can do really well,” King said.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work