/ Technology

Will Apple’s new tools really help you manage your phone use?

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.

Digital wellbeing

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.

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.

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.

Switching off

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.

Are you worried about wasting time online?

Yes (61%, 318 Votes)

No (39%, 200 Votes)

Total Voters: 518

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The digital wellbeing tools sound a bit like ‘sleep tech’ (for those searching for a better night’s sleep through tech) which, in my opinion, just keeps you glued to your phone for longer, when the best solution is just to put it down altogether.

To help my digital wellbeing, perhaps Which? Convo should log me out occasionally. 🙂

As far as the mobile goes, the main reason I keep checking it is to find out how much of my data and minutes allocation I’ve got left until the end of the month. Too much tethering and talking on the phone.

I’m sure I will learn about more about digital wellbeing at some time in the future.

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I wonder how spending time on your phone – a misnomer, as it is a pocket computer with access to huge amounts of information – compares with time we spent reading newspapers, magazines and books and other ways we used to pass the time?

So what’s in this for the likes of Apple and Google?

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…so do you think they’re plotting the zombie apocalypse?

Duncan said I am a gregarious person normally unless angered and spend my time talking to people –face to face

I’m just wondering where you get the time 🙂

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In her introduction, Kate mentions WWDC18, the annual Apple Worldwide Developers Conference. It’s a sort of religious event at which software developers meet to learn about and discuss features that us mere mortals will soon be enthusing about or ridiculing. There are similarities to other religious events such as motor shows.

This year, WWDC starts with a self-mocking Attenborough-style commentary before the keynote: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UThGcWBIMpU The ‘feeding frenzy’ is rather amusing.

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‘Real religion’, whatever that means, is not ‘being removed’, Duncan, unless you can provide evidence for that curious assertion. And the rest of what you say could just as easily have had a home in the Dominican Order’s rule book during the 12th C and later. Except the bit about the smartphone.

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I am not sure where this is leading so perhaps it’s time to go back.

Hello all 🙂 This is becoming off-topic. Can I kindly ask you to stop the discussion of religions?

I have an iPhone and I would happily buy more Apple products but they’re all very expensive. I can’t afford to constantly get the latest model (maybe one day…)

I don’t think Apple products are becoming cheaper anytime soon. My iPhone 5s is still working fine after more than four years and it looks as if I will be able to install iOS12, which is an unexpected bonus. Whether it will support many of the newer features remains to be seen.

Well, they’re flogging 9.5″ ipads for £319, which compares favourably with the price when they started out.

You are right. I’ve just looked back and my iPad 2 was listed at £479 in September 2011, though Comet (RIP) gave me a discount of £23.95 for click & collect. I have not noticed their laptops falling in price.

They haven’t. But I’ve just endowed my wife’s laptop with a new lease of life by replacing its internal HD with a SSD.