Hour upon hour lost to scrolling. Endless pings. Ubiquitous red dots. We’re living in the golden age of addictive smartphone interface design. But technology giants are beginning to acknowledge the problem: Today at its annual WWDC keynote, Apple announced that it’s responding by changing the way its smartphones and tablets work–just like Google did last month.
The company described how iOS 12 will include several new features to help you not use your phone so dang much. Here’s how.
A better Do Not Disturb
The way apps notify you is about to change in several major ways. First, Apple is beefing up its Do Not Disturb features. If you set a bedtime, your colorful notification screen will turn a low-glow black so that you’re not awoken in the middle of the night with Candy Crush updates. You can also set Do Not Disturb to automatically activate or deactivate when you’re in a meeting or at a certain location. In other words, iOS will now be context-aware about the way it notifies you.
Notifications themselves will change, too. Perhaps the biggest update is that notifications will group and nest, so to dismiss their buzzing, you can swipe just once to sweep several nested notifications away. Siri will help with the persistent onslaught of notifications, too. She’ll automatically suggest that you deactivate notifications being sent by apps that you aren’t using.
All of these updates should help reduce how often we check our phones. But Apple is putting more direct controls into your hand, too. A new app called Screentime will collect information on how long you use what app and send you this update in weekly reports. (This “inform the user” feature looks a lot like how Google is tackling the same problem, and Instagram is working on a similar usage analytics feature.)
On top of that, you’ll be able to set limits on how long you use certain apps. If you’re using Instagram as you approach your one-hour daily limit, you’ll receive a notification (heh) that your time is almost up. Then you’ll be locked out. You can, however, extend your usage time by tapping the equivalent of a snooze button.
These functions extend to children through a set of new tools that allow you to give them what Apple called an “allowance” on the apps they use, and set phone bedtimes as well. Apple made sure to clarify, however, that you could leave parts of the interface accessible–like the phone itself–if you’re worried about emergencies more than tech addiction.
Overall, it was somewhat surreal to hear developers cheer at these new controls as they were announced on stage at WWDC. In theory, these updates might hurt our engagement with some apps. But perhaps everyone is beginning to realize that there’s a fine line between a sustainable business and a burned-out society.