Dig­i­tal Well­be­ing to tackle phone ad­dic­tion

Dig­i­tal Well­ness in An­droid P is about lov­ing ev­ery­thing more, in­clud­ing your phone, re­veals MICHAEL SI­MON

Android Advisor - - Contents -

Along with up­dates to Google As­sis­tant, Lens, Gmail and just about ev­ery app with the word Google be­fore it, there was one un­veiled at I/O that isn’t about en­hanc­ing Google’s ecosys­tem of ser­vices. In fact, it’s about us­ing all of them less.

Baked deeply into An­droid P is a set of tools Google is calling Dig­i­tal Well­be­ing, and it’s all about bal­anc­ing your dig­i­tal life with your real-world one. Through a

se­ries of set­tings, op­tions, and fea­tures, Google wants An­droid P to be the least-used ver­sion of An­droid, and it just might make us love our phones even more.

The bit­ter truth about app us­age

The premier fea­ture of the new ini­tia­tive is An­droid Dash­board, which pro­vides a snap­shot of your daily us­age, not un­like the Bat­tery tab in An­droid Oreo. But in­stead of show­ing you which apps are caus­ing your bat­tery to drain, the screen will show you ex­actly how long you’ve used your phone each day, as well as the apps that have gob­bled up the most of your time. Think of it as nu­tri­tional la­belling for phone addicts.

Among the data pre­sented on the ex­haus­tive An­droid Dash­board is how many no­ti­fi­ca­tions you’ve re­ceived, and how long you’ve used each app on a daily and hourly ba­sis. When con­fronted with all these de­tails, you’ll likely be shocked by just how many hours you’ve been star­ing at your phone’s screen – and that’s the point. And the re­ports ex­tend beyond your phone. For ex­am­ple, your en­tire YouTube watch time will be col­lected, whether you’ve been play­ing videos on your phone or a PC.

It’s a bold strat­egy for a com­pany that makes phones and apps. While cig­a­rette mak­ers have a long his­tory in fight­ing reg­u­la­tions de­signed to warn cus­tomers about the harm their prod­ucts cause, Google is vol­un­tar­ily shar­ing po­ten­tially alarm­ing in­for­ma­tion di­rectly on our de­vices. As Google ex­plains it, the Dig­i­tal Well­be­ing ini­tia­tive is a re­sponse to cus­tomer con­cern, and not any at­tempt to get ahead of reg­u­la­tors.

Curb­ing ad­dic­tion one app at a time

But the An­droid Dash­board is just the be­gin­ning. Google is also giv­ing us the tools to help curb our phone ad­dic­tions, with new fea­tures and set­tings de­signed to force us out of apps and into the real world. Google CEO Sun­dar Pichai even coined an acro­nym about it: JOMO, or joy of miss­ing out.

To help users put down their phones, Google has built new con­trols into An­droid P to man­age how and when you use your phone, in­clud­ing app timers (so if you’re us­ing a spe­cific app for more than, say, 30 min­utes, you’ll get a warn­ing), and au­to­matic en­abling of Do Not Dis­turb when you rest your phone face­down on a ta­ble. The Do Not Dis­turb but­ton is also way more pow­er­ful, re­mov­ing all no­ti­fi­ca­tions from your phone when it’s switched on, even ones you’ve al­ready re­ceived.

It’s a stark con­trast to Ap­ple’s over­all lack of parental con­trols in iOS X. The iPhone maker was taken to task ear­lier this year for ig­nor­ing smart­phone ad­dic­tion in chil­dren, some­thing that Google al­ready tackled with its Fam­ily Link app. The Dig­i­tal Well­be­ing ini­tia­tive is very much a pre­emp­tive strike against iOS 12, which is ex­pected to in­clude some form of con­trols to limit a child’s screen time. Un­less Ap­ple does some­thing sim­i­lar to what Google has im­ple­mented in An­droid P – which seems un­likely – it won’t be enough.

Turn­ing mind­less in­ter­ac­tions into mean­ing­ful ones

Google is mak­ing a state­ment to Ap­ple and ev­ery­one else with Dig­i­tal Well­be­ing in An­droid P: Smart­phone ad­dic­tion isn’t just a prob­lem that af­fects kids. I al­ready know that I’m go­ing to be hor­ri­fied when I see my daily phone stats in An­droid Dash­board, but a vis­ual rep­re­sen­ta­tion of how much time I’m de­vot­ing to

my screen might spur me to set some per­sonal lim­its on my phone. It’s like if Marl­boro started hand­ing out nico­tine patches with ev­ery car­ton of cig­a­rettes – lots of peo­ple would try them out even if they didn’t plan to fully quit smok­ing.

Google’s plan with Dig­i­tal Well­be­ing isn’t just to make us ap­pre­ci­ate life out­side our screens, it’s also to make the in­ter­ac­tions with our phones more mean­ing­ful. Our days are filled with dozens of mean­ing­less in­ter­ac­tions with our phones – unim­por­tant no­ti­fi­ca­tions, mind­less so­cial me­dia checks, time-killing games – and Google wants to help us cut all of that out of our life, if we de­cide to opt in. It’s not so much about us­ing out phones less, but con­cen­trat­ing the time we spend with them into the things that are most im­por­tant.

And that extends to the big­gest detri­ment to our well-be­ing of all: late-night phone use. With a fea­ture called Wind down, An­droid P phones will fade to grayscale at the end of the day and turn on Do not dis­turb at bed­time, so we’ll be less tempted to get lost in a YouTube hole when we’re sup­posed to be sleep­ing. It’s just one more way Google is en­cour­ag­ing us to bal­ance our lives and re­store some san­ity to our dig­i­tal men­tal health.

Dur­ing the I/O key­note, Pichai said Dig­i­tal Well­be­ing was a “deep on­go­ing ef­fort” that extends beyond the walls of Google’s labs. It’s a four­pronged plan that deeply in­volves the user in or­der to un­der­stand our habits, fo­cus on what hap­pens, switch off, and find bal­ance for our fam­i­lies. And it just might make us ap­pre­ci­ate our phones even more, too.

Dig­i­tal Well­be­ing in An­droid P is de­signed to get fam­i­lies to ap­pre­ci­ate the time they spend with and with­out their phones

When you flip your An­droid P phone over on a ta­ble, Do not dis­turb will au­to­mat­i­cally en­gage

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