App Locks Phone From Work Contacts Until Playtime Is Over


UNICEF's PlayTimer app uses facial recognition to lock smartphones, securing uninterrupted quality time.

Tiffany Nesbit
  • 22 may 2014

As much as smartphones have improved our lives, they’ve also made it quite difficult to feel fully present in the world around us. Beeps, alerts, notifications, ringing, and vibrations all let us know that there are other items vying for attention and demanding an immediate response, without regard for whatever activity is currently at hand. Sometimes this is okay, but when it comes to things like setting aside time to play with your kids, it’s important that we don’t have interruptions.

Recognizing this, UNICEF has just created an iPhone app designed to help busy parents work-proof their phones. With PlayTimer, your child control when you can use your phone.

PlayTimer is available for free in the iTunes store. Once downloaded, a parent can set the number of minutes they want for playtime, then start the timer by taking a picture of their ‘playbuddy,’ or child. This will lock your phone using the same settings already saved in your lock settings. Though the phone actually will still receive phone calls and messages while the timer is set, if the phone is touched before the predetermined time an alarm will sound. To turn the alarm off, you must take a picture of your playbuddy to verify that you are still with them. To unlock the phone after the allocated playtime, parents must take another picture of their child; face detection will determine if it is the same person and if so will unlock the phone.

Valerie Binner, Executive Vice President of HR at Dometic Group, feels the app is a necessary one, saying:

How our mobile phones are both an important device that contributes to flexible working but also can easily take over our lives and impact negatively on our children is a very relevant and important topic. Highlighting companies responsibilities on this matter is on the spot.


Prior to creating the app, UNICEF conducted a study in Sweden with parents of children aged 0-12. The study found that more than half of the participants receive work emails and phone calls outside of business hours. In addition, almost half of the participants said having smartphones take away from the time they spent playing with their children. UNICEF Sweden developed the PlayTimer app to remind companies that they have a responsibility for children’s rights to play time with their parents. In 2012 UNICEF created ‘The Children’s Rights and Business Principles,’ a set of guidelines for employers on the range of actions they can take in the workplace and the community to respect and support children’s rights, so their parents work does not affect them in a negative way. In creating the app, UNICEF hopes employers will encourage parents to use the app. PlayTimer is available in Swedish, English, Spanish, and French.

For a better understanding of why this app is necessary, check out the video below.

PlayTimer on iTunes // UNICEF // PlayTimer

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