Apple and Google to combat mobile phone addictions

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Watching the god day on your phone screen can not possibly be healthy, even now Google and Apple agree with it. With the new versions of their operating systems iOS and Android they try to boost the digital well-being of users.


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Both during the presentation of Android 9 Pie and iOS 12, tech giants Google and Apple spent a lot of attention on the digital well-being of users earlier this year. The operating systems should not only warn you if you spend too much time on your mobile phone, but also take measures to discourage excessive use. It is of course ironic that we have to use our telephone to make less use of it, but it is a good start that large tech companies finally take the problem seriously.

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Apple goes into battle with the Screen Time feature. That makes every week a detailed summary of how you used your phone in the last seven days. This information can already be an eye-opener for many users. The smartphone keeps track of how many hours it was active, which were the most used apps, how often and when you picked up the phone and how many notifications you got from which apps.

You can then set limits immediately for each app or website. For example, you can indicate that you do not want to spend more than an hour a day on Instagram. In Instagram you get a warning when that limit is almost reached. It is also possible to block all apps for a certain period, for example between 11 o’clock in the evening and 8 o’clock in the morning. Apple calls that ‘device-free time’. In that period, only phone calls are allowed through, no notifications, and only specifically selected apps are available. Although it is not a real blockade. If you start an unapproved app in device-free time, you will receive a notification about it, but you can easily ignore it at the touch of a button.

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Pie chart

The Do Not Disturb feature, which had been embedded in iOS for some time, has also been updated by Apple. The regular Do Not Disturb application lets all notifications on your phone come silent in chosen periods, which must suppress the urge to see who you texted at 3 o’clock in the night. But the lock screen still shows the notifications. With the new Bedtime mode, that’s a thing of the past: notifications go straight to the notification center and skip the lock screen. The Do Not Disturb feature can now also use GPS and be set per location, so that the function stays on all the time while you are in a movie theater.

Google pulls the map of digital health in Android 9 with an app that is called Digital Wellbeing. For the time being, it can only be downloaded in a beta version for a limited number of smartphones, but later on the program for more devices becomes available.

Just like Apple, Google first tries to give the user an insight into the amount of time his phone runs, with a nicely presented pie chart showing the hours and minutes spent on different apps, the amount of notifications that came in. and the number of times an app was opened. The settings of the notifications can also be managed directly per app from Digital Wellbeing.

Other apps

In addition, Google allows the user to set restrictions for apps. These are being enforced somewhat more stringently than at Apple. For example, the icons of truncated apps are displayed in black and white on the home screen. If they are started anyway, a notification will appear, but you can not cancel the block immediately via that notification. You have to dive in the settings of Digital Wellbeing, as a kind of additional mental barrier.

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Google also sees the digital wellbeing broader than a specific app and also allows the user to do self-reflection in other programs. For example, YouTube has the ‘Take a break-reminder’ function, which after about an hour or an hour and a half suggests taking a break. In the YouTube account settings, the program also keeps track of how many hours the user has already watched video clips.

Google and Apple were by far not the first to try to restrict screen use with software. In the app stores of both companies hordes of programs can be found that try to get the same for each other. Moment (for iOS) also shows how much time you spend on your phone and the associated apps and presents that data in a clear overview. It is possible to link the accounts of family members to the app, so that you have a view on how much time your children are tethered to the screen. Another nice feature is the built-in coach that puts you goals and helps you achieve them. Think of ‘Lay down your tablet for half an hour’ or ‘Simplify your home screen’. The coach neatly calculates the time you have won for other activities.

Another detox app is App Detox (for Android). This also contains the usual overviews of screen usage and restrictions, but has a few well-liked features. This allows you to reward yourself with extra screen time if the app notices that you are moving. This way you can ‘buy’ 10, 15 or 30 seconds of screen time for every hundred steps you take. In addition, it is possible to ban an app forever, so that it will never start on your phone again.

Lock mode

A final app that smartphone junkies should definitely try is Flipd (for Android and iOS). It has two positions. The first is a full lock mode, which completely disables all apps (except for calls, texting and Google Maps) and makes it impossible to watch videos or check social media. The second is the light lock mode, which proposes a number of profiles (such as work, sleep and study) and switches the smartphone into lockdown for 1 to 12 hours, depending on the profile. The app is inspired by concentration techniques such as the Pomodoro technique, where you are supposed to be focused on a specific task during certain time blocks. In that light mode it is still possible to cancel the blocking, but you will then have to withstand a number of reproaching screens.

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