Apple and Google's focus on digital wellbeing / by Erik N

 Image source: Apple

Image source: Apple

Some time ago I saw a bus make a stop, and almost everyone had their heads tilted down, looking at their phones, unaware of the world around them. I bet that a significant amount of these commuters have no idea what their surroundings outside the bus look like. It can for sure help make a boring commute fly by more quickly, but I have been thinking about unhealthy smartphone use for some time now. Can you remember when you last were out in public and didn’t see a lot of people staring at their phones? I can’t.

It’s gotten so bad that sometimes when we hang out with our friends, we don’t really have each others attention. If we aren’t looking at our phones, chances are that they will instantly have our full attention as soon as a notification comes in And people are using their phones while driving, riding their bikes, and walking with their babies in strollers which is unsafe.

These devices are of course very useful to our daily lives, and I don’t think that's going to change anytime soon, but I do miss the old analog days where people in the same room actually interacted with each other with no phones or other electronic devices disturbing the peace. That’s something that both Google and Apple seems to agree with, as their new smartphone operating systems have features focused on putting our phones down.

For Android 9, there’s several new features to help with this, like a new dashboard that will show time spent using the phone, what apps that were used, and for how long. The number of notifications received and a counter for how many times the phone has been unlocked are also present. In addition to this, there’s also a feature called App Timer that will let you set time limits for specific apps.

The already existing Do Not Disturb feature has been improved to not only silence the phone, but also to hide visual interruptions like lock screen notifications that may tempt you to pick your phone up. It will now also turn on do not disturb when the device is placed with the screen down.

In addition to this, there is a new ”Wind Down” feature which turns on night light when it gets dark (the feature which tints the screen yellow to reduce exposure to blue light), and turns on do not disturb and fades the screen to grayscale at a chosen bedtime to help take the mind off the phone.

Apple on the other hand introduces much of the same features in iOS 12 with their new Screen Time dashboard with the ability to limit app time and compiling activity reports, and having do not disturb hide notifications. Apple also integrates these features to parental controls, allowing parents to monitor the activity reports of their children, and set app limits for their devices. Do not disturb can now also be set to be active until the end of an appointment, or until the user leaves the location where it was activated.

I wish these features weren’t needed in the first place, but they are all good features to help reduce smartphone use, and I hope they will help all of us spend more phone-free quality time with our friends and family this fall when the updates start arriving.