TECH TALK: MiiPC makes computing child’s play – and child safe

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First Posted: 4/1/2013

Parents with small children face an interesting set of problems when it comes to technology: How do you allow your child the use of a computer without constantly worrying what he or she is getting into?

Most children are perfectly capable of getting a computer connected to a Wi-Fi network, and parental controls built into existing PCs are either overly complex, too easy to bypass, or aren’t flexible enough to be practical.

Almost as important: How do you allow that child to use devices that are sometimes fragile or cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars without worrying that it’s going to be broken?

A startup company called “ZeroDesktop” aims to solve these problems with its $99 MiiPC.

MiiPC is a mini-computer based on Google’s Android operating system and can be connected to either a computer monitor or a regular TV. It includes all of the basic functionality you’d expect from a computer – you can browse the web, create and edit files, watch movies, or play games.

What’s different about MiiPC is that it’s been designed from the ground up to provide a safe computing environment for children. Each child has a separate account that she can log into, and controls can be set on a case-by-case basis for what websites, programs, and activities she can use, even down to what time she’s allowed to use the device.

Parents have the ability to remotely monitor what’s going on with the MiiPC: whether or not the device is on, who’s using it, who recently used it, and what programs have been used, via an Android or iPhone app or over the web. They also can remotely change permissions on the MiiPC to allow or remove access to programs or websites. Time limits can be set up for individual websites as well as apps, so if your child has been playing “Angry Birds” for the past four hours instead of doing homework, you can cut them off.

MiiPC also has full access to the Google Play app store, so just about ANY Android app can be added to the MiiPC. The Android OS is a bit more tamper-proof than a typical PC environment, and because each child has his own account, the amount of trouble he can cause is limited.

While there are a lot of other cheap Android-based devices, and relatively cheap PCs out there, I don’t think I’ve seen anything that integrates the “family-friendly” features offered by the MiiPC nearly as well.

And frankly, the target audience could just as easily constitute adults and the elderly. I know a lot of people who would love to play “Angry Birds” on their TV, or who want their parents to surf the web, without having to fix their computer every time they download spyware.

The MiiPC is powerful enough to handle either of those tasks without a problem.

The MiiPC will cost $99 and should be available by September 2013.

-Nick DeLorenzo is director of interactive and new media for The Times Leader. E-mail him at [email protected]