During its developer conference on Tuesday, Google discussed new functions in the next version of Android (code-named Android P) that will help users become more aware of which apps they use most and to improve their "digital wellbeing."
There are four new functions coming this fall, including an "app dashboard," an "app timer," a new "do not disturb mode" and a "wind down" feature.
Here's what they do.
Google's new app dashboard will give you a bird's-eye view of how you use your Android phone. You'll see how long you've used your phone in a day and which apps you've used most. This might help you realize that you spend way too much time flipping through Instagram, for example. It also shows how many times you've unlocked your phone, how many notifications you've received and enables you to set time limits on your apps.
From the app dashboard, you will be able to tap into the apps you're using and set a time limit for daily usage. Normally, you might do this for a child who spends too much time in a game, but this change will also help you limit how long you spend on any app, whether it's YouTube, Facebook or Snapchat. You can set a timer — whether it's 15 minutes a day, half an hour or two hours, the choice is yours. After you've hit that, the app will gray out on your home screen and you won't be able to launch it.
Currently, "do not disturb" on most phones just prevents you from hearing notifications. It's good if you're in a meeting, but not great if you're sitting in bed and still looking at the screen. The new do not disturb mode takes out all visual indicators, so you won't get alerts to new messages, Snaps or emails. Maybe you'll finally use your Android phone to read a bit more. Google is also adding a feature where you can turn the phone on its face to activate do not disturb automatically. No more dinner interruptions.
Lots of smartphones now have a feature that blocks out blue light at bedtime. That's the sort of light that can keep you up at night. Google's building on that with a new "Wind Down" function that starts by eliminating blue light and then, as your preset bedtime approaches, starts to turn the screen to grayscale, which will make using apps like Instagram less tempting. Google says it hopes this will let users "remember to get to sleep at the time [they] want."
These updates might help people use their smartphones less, but only if users actually pay attention to them. If folks don't activate any of the "digital wellbeing" functions, then the new version of Android P isn't going to really do anything.
Ultimately, we all have the choice to turn off our phones, and yet we don't seem to do that often enough.