Looking to address growing concerns around increasing device usage, smartphone addiction and social media impacting on mental health, Apple has announced a collection of initiatives focusing on 8220;digital health8221; that will be part of its iOS 12 update expected to be available at the end of September.
Announced its developer conference in June, Apple hopes the new features will help users regain control and not be constantly lost in their phones 8211; or at least keep Apple in the clear in the same way that its Do Not Disturb feature does when you8217;re driving.
We8217;ve dived deeper into the software and have been using it for some time during the public beta. Here8217;s everything you need to know about Apple Screen Time.
What is Apple Screen Time?
Found in the Settings app alongside Notifications and Do Not Disturb, the feature will monitor the way you use your device, telling you everything from how long you8217;ve spent on certain app categories to specific apps. It will even tell you how many times you8217;ve picked up your iPhone in a given hour.
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The idea is that by understanding how you8217;re interacting with your phone you can then take much greater control, either by taking drastic action like removing the app completely, or by limiting how you use it by setting App Limits within iOS 12. The problem, of course, is that you8217;ve got to decide to make that change.
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When that time limit is about to expire you8217;ll get a notification telling you you8217;ve only got 5 minutes left. When your time is up, you can choose to override it and carry on using it, but the nudge is supposed to make you realise what is happening, so you can curb your addiction.
Monitoring and reporting is one thing, but you might want to stop yourself from using a specific app at a specific time. This is where a feature called Downtime comes into play. The feature, again found in the Settings app, gives you the ability to schedule a block of time whereby only apps that you choose will work.
While the feature is likely to be used by parents to control the apps available to their children in the run up to bedtime for example, we could easily see it working to stop you from using your work email after hours or social media during work.
You8217;ll also be able to whitelist certain apps so you can still use the phone or messaging features for example.
It8217;s not just about monitoring your app usage, but also about how much time you spend interacting with a device. Using a number of signals, Apple will also measure how many times you pick up your phone in a given hour. There is a level of engagement for it to register, but it8217;s about tracking how many times you pick it up.
In our time using Screen Time it8217;s frightening how many times we pick up the phone, and that number is likely to shock you 8211; for the first couple of days at least.
Rather than be restricted to just a single device, the Screen Time feature is based on your iCloud account associated with all your devices that are running iOS 12. This means a number of things. Not only will you be able to see how you use apps across multiple devices, but also won8217;t be able to cheat the system by using your iPad over your iPhone when you8217;ve run out of time on one device.
It doesn8217;t work with Apple Watch, but if you8217;re trying to cheat the system that much, you might have bigger problems.
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While parental controls go a long way to delivering more granular controls, Apple still isn8217;t offering multiple user support on a single device like you can have on macOS, Amazon Fire or (some) Android devices.
Screen Time only works via iCloud account usage on devices. If you have a family iPad, the system will record all app usage regardless of who uses it meaning the system can be easily bypassed. The answer still appears to be that if you want to track what your kids are doing, they8217;ll all need their own iOS devices.
Parents can access their child8217;s Activity Report right from their own iOS devices to understand where their child spends their time and can manage and set App Limits for them. The days of 8220;I was just checking what homework I8217;ve got8221; are numbered.
The Do Not Disturb feature, already available in iOS 11, gets more features and control in iOS 12. In the next version of Apple8217;s mobile operating system you’ll be able to say don8217;t disturb me for the 8220;next hour8221; or for the rest of the evening as well as the usual daily schedules.
Siri can now intelligently make suggestions for notifications based on a number of factors including things like your location. For example, it will suggest putting your phone in to Do Not Disturb mode if it thinks you8217;re at the cinema.
It will also group notifications on the Lock Screen so you aren8217;t instantly drowned out first thing in the morning or after a long flight. For those who want even more control you8217;ll be able to have notifications delivered directly to the Notification Center bypassing the Lock Screen altogether.
Screen Time comes as part of iOS 12 and therefore you8217;ll need to upgrade all the relevant devices that you plan to use to that operating system. iOS 12 will work on all devices that currently run iOS 11: that8217;s iPhone 5S and above. It is expected to be available in September.
Apple says that because its own Screen Time is coded in at the operating system level it can manage and monitor things a lot better. The Activity Reports can8217;t be turned off (although you can ignore them), and because it8217;s based on the iCloud account, works across devices.
Of course you won8217;t get cross Android, Fire and iOS support as you can with the existing Screen Time app, and the Apple features don’t go as far as letting you monitor which websites your kids are visiting.
There8217;s also no way to reward your children with extra time for doing chores around the house 8211; but then the Screen Time app from Screen Time Labs is subscription-based for these more enhanced features.
We8217;ve been using Screen Time over the last 2 months. The first couple of weeks are a real eye-opener and likely to really showcase that you are addicted to your phone. We were shocked at how many times we picked up the iPhone, or how quickly you can rack up time on social media like Twitter.
The problem is that these are just tools to make you realise what is happening rather than really stopping you using your phone. Yes you can use blocks, but we found we quickly turned them off because they became annoying. We8217;re responsible people who use our phones responsibly, aren8217;t we?
Like those who need a jolt to get off the sofa and go for a run, Screen Time will certainly give iPhone users a reminder that they8217;ve become addicted to the devices they can no longer be with out 8211; whether you take the next step and curb your usage is up to you.