An update rolling out now to owners of Amazon Fire tablets promises more features aimed at allowing parents to better monitor and manage their children’s screen time, as well as a new “Blue Shade” nighttime reading mode that will allow you to comfortably read while reducing the exposure to the artificial blue light emitted by electronic devices like tablets that has been shown to cause sleep disturbances.
Studies have proven that light – and in particular, blue light – can keep our pineal gland from releasing melatonin – something it does a couple of hours before bedtime. This hormone reduces alertness, and signals to our body that it’s time to sleep. Because of the light’s interference with our natural, circadian rhythms, researchers have advised for some time that we reduce our use of screens in the hours before bedtime.
Of course, that’s easier said than done – especially when we’re accustomed to reading before bed, and often on our mobile phones and tablets.
According to Amazon, the update to its Fire OS mobile operating system, Fire OS 5 (code-named “Bellini”), will introduce a “Blue Shade” feature that uses specialized filters to limit users’ exposure to blue light, which has been shown to not only prolong the time it takes to fall asleep, but also delay REM sleep and reduce our levels of alertness the following day.
With “Blue Shade” enabled, the tablet will instead offer warm color filters and the ability to lower the display brightness to an “ultra-low” level for comfortable nighttime reading, Amazon says, even in a dark room.
You’ll also be able to further fine-tune the color settings to your personal preferences, while the device continues to adjust the color filtering as you do so to limit the blue wavelength light. The feature will be available to switch on or off with just a tap from a new quick setting after the Fire OS update is installed.
Better Parental Controls
Another new addition in Fire OS 5 are better tools for helping parents manage how their children are using their devices. Amazon, historically, has led the way on this front having introduced a robust series of parental controls called FreeTime into its software, which allow parents to configure time limits, set bedtimes, limit access to games and other non-educational content until certain goals (like reading X number of pages in a book) are met, and more.
Now the company is expanding its parental controls feature to be more relevant to those with older children who don’t need as much active monitoring. In a new Activity Center, parents will be able to see an overview of how much time their kids spent playing games and watching videos, versus reading, for example. They can also track web browser history and keep an eye on which apps, books and videos the child accessed.
But instead of blocking a child’s ability to use the tablet, the Activity Center is more focused on keeping parents informed so they can step in and talk to their child if they see a problem, or are concerned about the type of content their child is viewing.
For those children still using FreeTime, however, the included kid-friendly web browser has been improved and now offers more than 40,000 hand-curated and age-appropriate YouTube videos and websites. The sites are selected by Amazon in partnership with Common Sense Media, an organization which offers parents independent reviews and ratings on a variety of media, including games, books, movies, TV, apps and web content. Meanwhile, the videos are chosen by the Amazon FreeTime team.
This move comes at a time when parents are increasingly concerned about the type of content their kids are finding on video sites, such as YouTube, which includes a lot of adult-oriented videos. YouTube has attempted to address this problem itself by releasing a version of its app aimed at children, called YouTube Kids. But consumer advocacy groups have complained to the FTC about the deceptive advertising found in the app. Plus, the app is largely designed for small children, which limits its usefulness to those with kids outside the preschool set.
Amazon says the Fire OS 5 update is rolling out now to all owners of Fire HD 10, Fire HD 8, Fire Kids Edition, and Fire tablets beginning today, and continuing over the next few weeks. It will be available as a free, over-the-air update.