(Pocket-lint) – Over the past few years we’ve seen a number of major company’s introduce software tools to help keep an eye on how much screen time we’re getting through in a day. Whether it’s Apple on iOS, Microsoft in the Xbox Family dashboard or Google in Android.
Google’s toolset for Android users who want to find the right balance with technology is called the Digital Wellbeing. It’s in the Android settings menu and is designed to show your smartphone usage habits. It also provides access to helpful tools like app limit timers and a “wind down” or “bedtime” mode to help you focus on going to sleep.
Here’s what you need to know.
What is the Digital Wellbeing dashboard?
At I/O 2018, Google unveiled a new toolset in Android Pie called the Digital Wellbeing dashboard. Google described the tools as being part of its new “digital wellbeing” initiative, in which it is focusing on helping people be healthier both in their real lives and in their digital lives. Google found that 70 per cent of people want help with digital well-being.
Since then we’ve had three new major updates (Android 10, Android 11 and Android 12), but Digital Wellbeing remains a key part of those software builds and is a feature that’s been slowly improved.
Google’s idea is that when people are given the tools to easily disconnect, they can enjoy their lives more and be fully present. Sure, while a lot of the time we spend on our phones is really useful, some of it could honestly be spent on other things – like that sewing project you’ve been wanting to get done or those garden beds you’ve been eager to build. So, with the dashboard, Google’s has given us key capabilities to help manage our screen time.
For parents, there’s also the option to manage your Family Link to monitor your kids’ screen times on their devices, whether they be Android phones and tablets, or Chromebooks.
How does the dashboard work?
The Digital Wellbeing dashboard in Android’s setting menu allows you to see how much time you’ve spent in apps during the day, how many times you’ve unlocked your device in a day, and how many notifications you received in a day. You will be able to drill-down on any of these things. For example, you can tap on an app, like Gmail, to see how much you used the app on, let’s say, Saturday.
Developers will be able to provide even more detailed breakdowns so you can see how you’re spending time in their apps. Google said it’s allowing them to do this so that you can determine whether you’re experiencing “meaningful engagement” in any given app. For example, Google’s own YouTube will be getting a ‘deep link’ so you can view your total watch time across mobile and desktop.
Through the dashboard, Android lets you set time limits on specific apps. So, for Snapchat or Instagram – as examples – you can set a timer in five minute increments from 0 minutes all the way up to 23 hours and 55 minutes. Then, your device will nudge you when you’re close to your time limit, gently reminding you that’s time to do something else. Even better, for the rest of the day, that app’s icon will be greyed out to remind you of your goal.
Digital Wellbeing isn’t just about setting time limits on your apps, it’s about making your phone work for your benefit. One of those benefits is helping you go to sleep at night. It’s been noted for years now that blue light in screens keeps you awake longer, and Bedtime mode is there to help you put your phone down and ensure it’s not hindering your natural circadian rhythm.
In the Bedtime mode screen you can switch on ‘Do Not Disturb for Bedtime mode’ which blocks any notifications except contact from important contacts (in case someone needs to get hold of you in an emergency). You can also enable ‘Greyscale’ which makes the display black and white, making it more relaxing and making you less likely to want to watch videos and game late into the night. It’s also useful for e-book reading.
Once those have been toggled on you go through a set up process where you can set which time you want Bedtime mode to be active, and on what days. Or you can set it up to automatically kick in when you put your phone on charge after 9pm.
When that’s all active, you can customise it further by switching off the Always On Display feature when it’s in bedtime mode, so your screen goes completely dark.
Apps can be distracting and encourage procrastination during times when you really would rather be productive. Especially in an era when so many people are working from home. Focus mode helps you, in that it disables particular apps during those times.
Tap on ‘Focus mode’ and you’ll see a list of apps with check boxes next to their names. Simply select the apps you find the most distracting, whether that be Twitter, an addictive game you can’t stop picking up or any other app.
Once you’ve selected your distacting apps, you can manually switch on Focus mode to disable them, or set a schedule for it to come on specific days at specific times. For instance, during work hours.
There are number of other smaller handy tools in the main Digital Wellbeing screen too. For instance, if you enable ‘Flip to Shhh’, you’ll can automatically enable ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode just by turning your phone and placing it face-down on your desk/table.
With ‘Heads Up’ enabled you get reminded to focus on what’s around you if you’re using your phone while walking, just in case you have a habit of getting lost in your phone and not paying attention while walking on busy streets.
Lastly, there are parental controls which help you manage the accounts of any children or dependents you have.
Writing by Maggie Tillman and Cam Bunton. Originally published on .