Refreshing an old app for a pandemic

We developed the Phew app in 2015, when iOS 8 was the new hot item. After 2016, the app received minor updates for bug fixes and iOS compatibility, but by the time iOS 13 came out last last year, the app had become somewhat dated.

We were going to shut the service down. Then the Coronavirus pandemic hit. So we decided to refresh the app and provide it as a free service during the crisis.

With families sheltering in place, with kids locked in at home, parents can’t have too many tools in their arsenal. Phew helps manage screen time and provide kids an engaging experience with access to great content, but also with the comfort of knowing it’s safe and age-appropriate.

YouTube for kids of every age that they can personalize

It was also an opportunity for me to jump back into iOS native app development in a bigger way again. Phew 1.0 was a hybrid app, with some parts of the UI in HTML5. We decided to make it a 100% native app in the 1.1 version with no webviews.

Phew 1.0 had a huge amount of effort put into fancy dashboards and analytics, that it turns out, almost no one used. We decided not to port all that into native code and focus on just what kids and parents use most: Youtube content, tailored to each kid by age, all parent-approved and rated.

We greatly simplified the Parent experience, focusing on approving content.

Each kid has their own parent-managed account so they get a unique experience of relevant and age-appropriate content. If the parent approves a video for age 10, it won’t be part of an 8-year-old experience.

Likewise, content targeted to younger kids, while available to an older kid, will not be highlighted. That older kid will see content more relevant to their age first and foremost.

Kids can favorite videos and channels (effectively subscribe to Youtube channels) to see fresh content updated regularly, but they won’t see comments and won’t be sent off to inappropriate content from “related videos” — related videos on Phew are always parent-approved videos on Phew.

When kids search on Phew the results are also scoped to parent-approved content, specific to that kid based on their age.

It was a good learning experience to catch up to current iOS development, including adding support for iOS 13 dark-mode. Getting rid of all that hybrid HTML5 content was actually therapeutic to some extend.

Now the new Phew 1.1 version is on the App Store and available for families. Free during the crisis.