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Grow Your Business Technology

Break Your Smartphone Addiction with These New Features

OS features to break smartphone addiction
Credit: ImYanis/Shutterstock

Concerned that you spend too much time on your smartphone? Turns out most people are. But that doesn't mean we're helpless and should just give in to our addiction.

Motorola recently partnered with Dr. Nancy Etcoff, a psychologist and faculty member at Harvard University, to survey people's use of their smartphones. More than one-third of these respondents felt they spent too much time on their phones. In fact, 33 percent said they prioritize their smartphone over engaging with other people. Some 49 percent agree they check their phone more often than they would like to. The survey was conducted between Nov. 30, 2017, to Dec. 26, 2017, among 4,418 smartphone users ages 16 to 65, worldwide.

"For the majority of smartphone users, their problematic behaviors are mindless responses and bad habits that they need help in overcoming,” says Dr. Etcoff. So how do we break these destructive habits that are stealing our time, productivity and personal relationships? Apple and Google are ready to help.

Both smartphone giants are rolling out new features and tools in the next versions of the Android operating system and iOS, respectively. Both updates will be more widely available this fall. If you can't wait, you can preview versions of Android P and iOS 12 (which are available now for testing).

Android P, the upcoming and ninth version of Google's smartphone operating system, now includes a feature called Dashboard. It's designed to show you how much time you spend on your device and precisely what you do with that time. Google calls this part of the company's "digital well-being" initiative that is intended to help people live healthier.

Specifically, Dashboard shows a circle that represents the time you've spent on your smartphone on a particular day. This graphic also displays the total amount of time you've spent on apps that day.

Also on this main screen of the Dashboard, there's a tally of the times you've unlocked your phone and the total number of notifications the phone has alerted you to.

With Dashboard, you can dive deeper to learn more about your app use. There's a bar chart that displays the total amount of time you've spent using an app on a particular day, or for a period of days.

Android P includes three tools to reduce the amount of time you spend on your phone: App Timer lets you set a time allowance for using an app within a one-day period. For instance, you can set a timer for 15 minutes, 30 minutes or 45 minutes for an app such as Snapchat. It will send you a reminder as that limit approaches. Then for the rest of the day, that app will be grayed out.

Do Not Disturb turns off app notifications and incoming calls. This mode can automatically be activated when you set your smartphone face-down on a desk, table or other flat surface. This feature is appropriately called Shush. In this mode, you can set conditions so that certain contacts can still reach you.

Set a bedtime for yourself with Android P’s Wind Down control through Google Assistant. The colors on your phone's display will gradually shift to gray as bedtime approaches, and your phone will also enter Do Not Disturb mode. Wind Down is a subtle reminder to put away your phone and get some rest.

Android P is expected to be released sometime in third quarter 2018. In many cases, the devices it will be available for will vary based on device maker and carrier. But you can expect it will be available for Google Pixel 2, Google Pixel 2 XL, Google Pixel and Google Pixel XL. It will also likely roll out to the HTC U11, HTC U11 Life, Moto G6, Moto G6 Plus, Moto G6 Play, Nokia 1 and up, and the Sony Xperia XZ2, among other smaller phone makers.

For iPhone owners out there, Apple's iOS 12 includes a series of tools to help you take back your productivity, too. These include Screen Time with subfeatures like Activity Reports, App Limits, Do Not Disturb and Notifications controls.

Screen Time shows the time you've spent on all your iOS devices, including iPads. You can see this total for the current day, or during the last seven days, as a bar chart. Screen Time also breaks down how much time you've spent on individual apps and categories of apps (grouped under headings such as Social Networking and Productivity).

Additional bar charts display the total number of times you've picked up your iOS devices, plus tallies of the notifications that each app has sent.

An App Limits function in Screen Time lets you set a maximum amount of time you want to allow yourself to use a particular app (or a category of apps) within a 24-hour period. A notification will remind you when the time limit is approaching. For families looking to limit a child's screen time, parents can pull up an Activity Report to see where your child's time is being spent.

The Downtime function in Screen Time lets you set a start and end time when you want your iPhone or iPad to be inactive. You won't be able to use it during this restricted period, but incoming phone calls will still come through as well as any apps you exempt from this.

iOS 12 lets you fine-tune notifications so they won't be as distracting throughout the day. You can group notifications for an app (so it won't send an alert for every notification), set an app to silently deliver notifications (so they won't make a sound) or silence all app notifications.

With Do Not Disturb mode, you can stay focused during classes, meetings, dinner time, which can be set in the Control Center. Also, there's Bedtime mode in iOS 12's Do Not Disturb tool. When you set your iPhone or iPad to this, its display will dim, and iOS 12 will hide notifications from the lock screen as you sleep.

iOS 12 is expected to be released in fall 2018. It will instantly be available for upgrade on Apple iPhone 5s and later models (as well as all iPad Air and iPad Pro models), iPad 6th generation, iPad 5th generation, iPad mini 2 and later as well as the iPod Touch 6th generation.

Howard Wen

Howard Wen reports on the internet and tech industries. He covers products and trends for enterprise and the general audience. He has contributed to several publications including Make Magazine, Popular Science and Wired.