Apple and Google's new anti-smartphone addiction tools are an admission of guilt

During Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference it announced a few addiction-combatting features for its mobile devices, including an enhanced Do Not Disturb feature, more notification control, and insight into people's smartphone usage with Screen Time. The next version of iOS will have built-in time controls to limit the amount of time spent in apps and games and will display how many notifications users receive and from what apps they originated from.

This is far from the first company to announce something like this, with Facebook announcing months ago that it will emphasize "time well spent" on the platform as its new motto.

β€œThe research shows that when we use social media to connect with people we care about, it can be good for our well-being," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said. "We can feel more connected and less lonely, and that correlates with long term measures of happiness and health. On the other hand, passively reading articles or watching videos β€” even if they're entertaining or informative β€” may not be as good.”

Software maker Google followed and in May at its annual I/O event, announced AI improvements to remove the friction in interactions with devices β€” things like sorting photos, drafting emails and calling restaurants to make reservations β€” in an attempt to make use of the cellphone more productive.

"Based on our research, we know that people feel tethered to their devices," Google CEO Sundar Pichai said.

He took time to introduce Android Dashboard, a new feature where people can see how long they've been using their device, the apps they've used most and the amount of times they've unlocked their phones and received notifications. The same philosophy is rolling out to YouTube as well, with features being added like the ability to limit all notifications to only one per day in digest form and a "take a break" reminder option.

It's quite interesting that Apple and Google are finally allowing users to view how much they are really addicted to their phones and can be treated as almost an admission of guilt, with both admitting that it had a hand to play in smartphone addiction by offering resources to combat it. The concept of "digital wellbeing" revolves around people being informed of, understanding and acting upon their habits and is being pushed in an attempt to make people's lives more balanced between their phone and real life.

The increased amount of digital devices in our lives β€” from smartphone to smart glasses and smartwatches, virtual assistants to virtual reality and more β€” we're become increasingly addicted to being connected at all times and with a constant flood of notifications coming at us from all angles, we're constantly being trapped in our own digital worlds. It's important to learn about these features because they prove that we might have a problem with being obsessed with our smartphones, but that there are tools being built to combat this and that these companies are genuinely interested in our wellbeing.

There are many different psychological tricks to keep users coming back for more, including "nudges" that keep people coming back for more, from bright colours to the number of notifications they send, they have it all figured out.

Many apps (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter included) manipulate users into coming back for more and more and at first glance these moves seem empathetic to our current crisis, but these moves do come from companies that utilize psychological games and tricks that keep you coming back for more. Managing addiction and forcing users to recognize their own is a sweet spot for most companies to be in, which is smack-dab in the middle of unhealthy addiction and healthy detachment.