The Apple faithful gathered in San Jose, California, this week for the opening of WWDC, Apple’s annual conference for developers. Are the new tools it revealed any good?
In his keynote speech, CEO Tim Cook led a procession of Apple executives including Craig Federighi, Apple’s software boss, in announcing updates to iOS, macOS, tvOS and watchOS, which range from the derivative (Snapchat-like filters and multiple-participant Facetime chats!) to the infuriating (Apple Watch owners, your wrist is about to become a hellscape of notifications) to the terminally narcissistic (memojis, see above image).
The new feature for iOS that was most heavily trailed is the suite of digital wellbeing tools that are designed to help users disconnect from their phones.
The main part of this is a dashboard, which will break down how much time you spend with apps: if you think you spend too many hours a day scrolling through Instagram or Twitter, the dashboard will reveal precisely how much time you fritter away looking at pictures of other people’s cats.
Google unveiled a similar dashboard at its developer conference last month, so the general hum of concern about screen time and how we use our devices is clearly being heard by the big players in the mobile phone space.
Apple has also added a feature to iOS12 that will let you set time limits for apps that you think you spend too much time with: if you’re worried about being distracted by other people’s cats on Instagram, you can set the phone to kick you out of the app after a predetermined time.
Is this a good thing? On the face of it, yes, probably. However, I watched the event from San Jose with hundreds of Apple developers at a parallel event in London last night, and a couple of them made the point that some developers might work to increase the immersive and compelling components of their apps so that users dismiss and override any limits they ask iOS12 to set for them.
And I wasn’t the only one to note that new and updated tools Apple is building seem designed to keep you engaged with your devices.
None of this stuff is dovetailing with rumours about Apple building tools to help you disconnect from your phone #WWDC18
iOS 12 on the iPhone: tons of features to help you reduce phone addiction and regain your attention
watch OS 5: literally talk to people on a walkie-talkie while loading webpages on a tiny screen while riding a bike
— nilay patel (@reckless) June 4, 2018
The live demo of a woman on an exercise bike sending competitive messages about her workout to a friend, looking up holiday information and scrolling through her notifications while hammering away on the pedals raised a few eyebrows among the global audience.
30 minutes ago Apple was talking about having a healthier relationship to our devices. Now, they have a woman riding a spin bike in front of us and frantically scrolling thru productivity apps and multitasking on her watch pic.twitter.com/7LbS3cGfWZ
— Charlie Warzel (@cwarzel) June 4, 2018
I was particularly struck by how much time you could spend fiddling around creating a “memoji” (animated emoji of yourself), and by the live demo of adding stickers and filters to a Facetime live chat.
Apple hardware is particularly designed to work seamlessly as you switch between devices, and again, the potential for getting stuck into device-based activities struck more than a few people during the keynote.
Given that the presentation of the tools to help users manage their time with iPhones took up only a few minutes of the two-and-a-quarter hour event, you have to wonder just how committed Apple is to this initiative.
One useful facet of these tools, however, is that those of you with kids or grandchildren who seem to have their iPhone or iPad permanently stuck to their hands will be able to use the tools to set hard limits for them. Parental controls aren’t a new idea, but the ability to manage how much time kids spend on their devices is welcome.
As an Android user, I’m waiting for Google’s tools to arrive on my phone. I’m a technology journalist and I run my life through my phone, so while I’m interested to see a breakdown of how I use my device, I’m not worried about poorly-evidenced notions of “addiction”.
However, it’s clear that many of you do want to feel more in control and manage your device use, so are you planning to make use of these tools? Do you feel the need to switch off?
Are your family members more busy talking to distant people than the humans in front of them? And are Apple and Google going about this in the right way? Let us know what you think.