At the Apple Worldwide Developer Conference earlier this week, the company announced a series of new features for the upcoming iOS 12 that are aimed at helping people actually spend less time on their phones. Among other things, this upgrade will allow users to track their phone and app usage as well as have greater control over notifications.
Why is Apple adding these new features?
From a marketing standpoint, this change might appear to be counterintuitive. After all, wouldn’t Apple want us to be on our phones as much as possible? We spend hours a day on our phones. Then, perhaps the moment we take our eyes off that tiny screen—the notification sound brings us back.
Industry experts point to the shift as stemming from an increasing concern towards society’s addiction to technology (especially when kids are affected, as former Facebook president Sean Parker has openly wondered). At the same time, mindfulness is a major wellness trend right now, and many high performers across all industries are speaking about taking regular breaks from digital and how it’s positively impacted them.
As a major industry leader, Apple is always at the forefront of upcoming trends, predicting what people want before we even realize it ourselves. In that sense, it makes sense for Apple to take the first step towards a culture of mindful technology.
More specifically, these are the three biggest ways Apple’s new iOS is encouraging a mindful digital presence.
An update to controlling your notifications
As a freelance writer with ADD, I can personally attest that notifications can really distract me and add hours to my workday unnecessarily. While many notifications are important, just as many are not.
For example, on an average Monday, an iMessage from my husband about dinner is a little more important than the Bloomingdales app letting me know all shoes are 25% off. However, I can’t say that sentiment remains on the weekends.
But, controlling notifications is nothing new. You always have the choice of allowing notifications upon installation of every app. You can also change the setting at any time.
In iOS 12, this is taken a step further, integrating Siri to suggest setting changes based on your usage (so, Siri will encourage you to turn off notifications for apps you don’t use often). In addition to turning notifications off completely, you’ll have the option of delivering them quietly (that is, notifications will only show in the corner of the app, without any banners, or sounds popping up on your lock screen).
Additionally, Apple spoke to a new morning wake-up screen without notifications, so you don’t catch yourself checking Instagram notifications before you’ve even gotten out of bed at 6 am.
The new iOS will show you where your time goes
One of the most interesting features of the update is that you can view a weekly report that breaks down how much time you spend on your phone in general as well as in each app. While I can see how this time tracking might be a valuable tool, personally, I don’t really want to know how much time I spend scrolling through social media (#ignoranceisbliss). On the other hand, this might be a great way to hold myself accountable for using all the meditation apps I’ve downloaded and have yet to make a real commitment to.
One other thing to think about here: research shows that tracking anything can be a really effective way to change a habit. Tracking calories, for example, has traditionally helped people lose weight because you identify patterns (“I always eat right before bed, even if I’m not hungry”) and add mindfulness to your day (for example, in a moment when you might mindlessly snack at your desk, tracking might lead you to think “Ugh, do I really want to figure out how many calories are in this handful of pretzels and write it in my food journal?”).
If you want to cut down on screen time, then, regularly checking it might be the way to go.
Set time limits for certain apps
This update also allows you to set time limits for apps. As you approach the limit, an initial warning will appear, prior to a final “Time’s Up” notification.
Don’t worry, Apple’s never going to completely block you from Instagram. If you choose to stay in the app, additional messages will continue to nudge you in the right direction — leading to a greater awareness of just how much you use your phone.
How to use these features for a mindful digital detox
The key to using these features is to create shorter or limited detoxes when possible. Realistically, it’s almost impossible to function without a smartphone today. While I personally relish the occasional phone-free dog walk, I would feel the utter panic if I had to go anywhere in my car without it.
Turning off social media or iMessage during date night with our partners, or time with our families may be exactly what we need to remain in the present. Then when we go back to our phones, we can truly enjoy the distraction, giving ourselves full permission to comment all we want, deep dive into celebrity gossip, and give ourselves the mindful, quality screentime we’ve earned.