Nivedit Majumdar Nivedit Majumdar

Screen Time, AR, and Digital Wellness – WWDC 2018 Roundup

Another WWDC came to an end a couple of days back, and while iOS 12, watchOS 5 and macOS Mojave (Apple emphatically stated that there would be no hardware announcements) took the limelight, it was worth noting that the company is now taking digital wellness and augmented reality very seriously, with features such as Screen Time.

This isn’t something new that we’ve seen this year, since Google announced a similar Digital Wellbeing platform back in I/O. And, it just goes to show how tech giants are looking to strengthen their stance on innovating, as well as making sure people aren’t addicted to their devices.

Screen Time, and all that’s new in Augmented Reality from Apple, will be the crux of this article here, as we round up what were the headline grabbers in WWDC 2018.

AUGMENTED REALITY

Easily one of the most impressive innovations from WWDC, besides iOS 12, was Apple’s take on augmented reality in the form of its rollout of ARKit 2.0. Apple states that the improvements include better face tracking and 3D object detection, but the highlight was shared experiences; Apple demoed a multiplayer gaming environment where two different people could play the same game, through AR, together. This is built on Apple’s technology which allows for the device sensor’s and cameras to sync with each other and track an object’s position in space.

A similar technology called Cloud Anchors was also showcased at Google I/O. With more development kits available, and the potential of specialised app ecosystems for the platform, it looks like AR is finally getting some teeth and intelligence, to evolve from its current novelty state, into a more refined one.

APPLE WATCH

While no new variants of the Apple Watch were announced, Apple did introduce new workout types, and a feature to automatically detect when the user begins a workout – it does so by tracking the heart rate. For me, this feature was much more impressive than the other things that watchOS 5 brings – including a Walkie-Talkie app, and raising your arm to activate Siri.

SCREEN TIME

With Google taking on digital wellness in I/O, could Apple be far behind?

Apple is taking steps to curb smartphone addiction through a set of built-in features to reduce distractions and enhance productivity. Much like what Google has showcased in I/O 2018, these are simple but effective measures which limit the usage of a smartphone and/or certain apps.

For instance, there’s an enhanced Do Not Disturb mode, which hides notifications from the user during bedtime, and shows the notifications once the user has woken up completely. Interestingly, this mode is now contextual, so it can automatically be toggled on or off depending on the user’s location or the time of day, or when a certain calender event is completed. Some people might argue that IFTTT has certain recipes which mimic the same features, but it’s still a welcome sign that an OEM is incorporating these features directly into the software. With grouped notifications, of course, a feature which was long overdue in iOS.

Coming to the important part, Screen Time. A dashboard for app usage insights, Screen Time gives a weekly breakdown of how a user spends their time on their iPhone – both as a cumulative of how much time is spent on the device, with more granular approaches regarding specific app usage – including number of notifications received, and which apps sent them.

If this sounds a little too familiar, it is because there are quite a few similarities between Google’s Digital Wellbeing platform, and Apple’s Screen Time. However, there’s a key difference: Google will disable the app icon on the home screen once the daily usage time is exceeded, and the app can be enabled only through the dashboard application. Apple, on the other hand, will throw a simple toast notification merely informing the user that the stipulated app usage time has been completed; the user can choose to ignore the notification and continue using the app.

When it comes to parental controls, Apple has baked remote management of apps, right into the OS itself. All in all, Google and Apple are definitely taking positive strides when it comes to curbing smartphone usage.

SO, WHAT’S NEXT?

This is going to be a fun question to answer, given that both Apple and Google are bringing immersive features that are designed to hook users onto their devices, and at the same time they’re promoting platforms to reduce smartphone addiction.

From a Wired article on the same topic, Larry Rosen, the co-author of The Distracted Mind and a research psychologist who studies the impact of technology, states that, “This is certainly a start in providing options to stem tech addiction and obsession, but nothing on your phone is going to change that behavior until you change the psychology behind it”.

Overcoming FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), and replacing that with JOMO (Joy Of Missing Out) can go a long way in combating smartphone addiction, and developing dashboards and platforms such as Google’s Digital Wellbeing, Apple’s Screen Time, and Emberify’s own Instant too, are positive steps in this regard.