Apps Google wants the smartphone to work for you, not vice versa

[Exclusive] Google wants the smartphone to work for you, not vice versa

Digital Wellbeing
My phone is a dictator

How can the smartphone work for us without continuously distracting us? That was the question that Google struggled with before Digital Wellbeing rolled out. Golobaltech spoke with Rose La Prairie, Product Manager Google Digital Wellbeing, about the development of Digital Wellbeing and the future of our smartphone use.

My phone is a dictator

Google has done a lot of research into smartphone use among children, adolescents, adults, parents and so on. The tech giant did this in response to questions from users about, among other things, the many notifications that users are ‘harassed’ with on a daily basis.

My phone is a dictator

Google found out that notifications are stressful, and one of the survey participants put it as follows: “My phone is a dictator.” The phone determines the amount of distraction, and the user loses control. The many smartphone notifications give many people that restless feeling about missing something (FOMO, Fear Of Missing Out) so that its use can lead to an addiction.

Habit or social obligation

Checking Twitter or Instagram has, therefore, become a habit for many. A habit because of boredom but also because of the reward we receive for it, or not. It is a vicious circle. Being distracted by phones can also arise from social obligation. We have to check the Facebook feed once in a while to see what everyone else is doing, because otherwise: FOMO. Google spoke to a counter-movement in India that only uses feature phones (with which you can text and call). These people were very happy with the idea of ​​not having to check a timeline of any social network. JOMO, Joy Of Missing Out.

Habit or social obligation

Meanwhile, according to Google, everyone points the finger at each other. 84 percent of the parents thought their children were too busy with the smartphone and children indicated that their parents set the wrong example. An example: after 9 pm the kids are no longer allowed to use a smartphone, but the parents are sitting on the couch with their phone in hand. All in all, 50 percent of parents were concerned about the smartphone use of their children. According to the study, adults were much less concerned (29 percent) about their own smartphone use. 65 percent indicated that they themselves are responsible for his or her smartphone use.

Anyway, the smartphone is part of our society, the device is indispensable. It is therefore important to find a balance between technology and your life, according to Google.

Digital Wellbeing

Google, therefore, devised a tool that gives users more control over the smartphone and introduced it with the release of a test version of Android Pie: Digital Wellbeing or Digital Wellbeing. This tool can be found as an app on most phones that run on Android 9.0 Pie. 

Digital Wellbeing focuses on two things, creating awareness by making smartphone use transparent and offering tools that give you more control to change smartphone use.

–  Dashboard: Here you can see at a glance how often you have unlocked your smartphone, how long you have used it, which apps you have used and how many notifications you have received.

– App Timer: Allows you to set daily timers. When the app timer expires, the app is paused for the rest of the day.

– Wind Down (almost bedtime): This feature complements the do not disturb mode with shades of gray and less blue light from your screen so that your brain gets more rest. 

You can go here for an explanation of these three components .

In addition, there are many more tools in Android that should make it possible to find more balance. Consider the do not disturb mode, Flip to Shh … (Flip for Sst …) and  Family Link for parents. It is also possible to take a  break in YouTube, only to be disturbed by scheduling high priority notifications in Gmail and email messages so that your colleague in a different time zone is not bothered during the night with a work-related message.

According to Google, the App Timers in Digital Wellbeing have ensured that 96 percent of users could focus on a specific goal. Wind Down led to a 27 percent fall in smartphone use before going to sleep.

The future of Digital Wellbeing

After a short presentation, we were allowed to ask Rose La Prairie, Product Manager Google Digital Wellbeing, a number of questions about this tool.

Isn’t it a bit strange that a smartphone manufacturer with a tool advises its users to use their own products less?

“Google strives to offer apps that suit the user so that they can use them for a longer period of time. We don’t want people to use the apps and regret it afterwards. In addition, Digital Wellbeing is meant to make these people a to offer a better balance between tech and their private life. “

36% of the people who completed our AW Poll on Digital Wellbeing indicated that he or she is not concerned about his or her digital well-being. They do think that Digital Wellbeing would be very good for someone else. How are you going to reach people who are not worried about their smartphone usage?

“We have heard this very vaguely in our studies: ‘It’s them, not my problem’. It is certainly an interesting insight because not everyone recognizes themselves in these ‘smartphone problems’. When it comes to smartphone use for sleeping most people realize that this is not wise, and in addition, creating awareness is very important: a kind of tech etiquette will naturally arise in which people ask each other questions about each other’s smartphone usage. who looked at his Dashboard and then discussed with his family. Having a conversation instead of pointing the finger is more important in this case. In this way, we all start thinking about the smartphone in our lives. “

It will of course take time to raise awareness, but according to La Prairie, companies have already started: “There are already restaurants that give customers discounts if they leave their phones untouched.”

Google Digital Wellbeing
Rose La Prairie, Product Manager Google Digital Wellbeing

Does Google use the data from Digital Wellbeing to see if apps or the smartphone are being used more or less? 

“Digital Wellbeing on Android collects user data, but it is stored locally on the phone. Google cannot access it if you have given your permission. Analyzes are released on the data for which permission has been given.

Digital Wellbeing is hidden in the settings menu. Not everyone can be found there daily. How do you reach this group? 

“We don’t want to keep people up to date with the Digital Wellbeing tools all day long because more notifications will be added. We are still looking for a balance between recommending the tools, but not in such a way that more notifications. “

Not every smartphone manufacturer delivers Digital Wellbeing on its Android Pie phones because it is not mandatory. Why is that?

“The Pixels and Android One phones were the first to get the tool. Google does not oblige smartphone manufacturers to deliver the tool, it is optional. Google is trying to persuade manufacturers to do this like OnePlus that Digital Wellbeing is now  offering via a beta “

Is there a technology addiction at all? Or are smartphones and media simply deeply rooted in our society?

“According to our studies, this is also about balance. People use telephones for a large number of useful things and a number of less useful things. For many people, forbidding something will not help, but finding a balance in this. “Do not pick up the phone. When you almost go to bed, you leave it. Taking the phone from your children will not work. You will have to learn how to use it wisely.”

How do you see Digital Wellbeing for children? Do you have to leave the user of parents or teachers?

“We talk to parents and teachers about this and offer them Digital Wellbeing courses. You can find them in the Digital Workplace. There will be more courses. Google offers materials but the parents have the final control over what is good or bad for their children. “

How far will Digital Wellbeing develop in the future? Will a teacher be able to switch off all telephones in his classroom at the touch of a button?

“We are still at the start of Digital Wellbeing. The Android team is growing and the tools will grow. It is interesting to have a button with which you can switch off all telephones. Especially in groups where the one takes the phone out of the pocket. It would be nice if all members of the group could communicate better with each other because they left their phones in their pockets. Ultimately, the user will always be in control of his smartphone usage. means, not a goal. It would be bad if your phone went out at ten o’clock and stopped working. In the future, Digital Wellbeing will also be able to monitor websites, not just apps. “

When is Focus Mode available?

“Focus Mode will be available in Android 10 Q. Not in one of the betas.”

Interview with Rose La Prairie, Product Manager Google Digital Wellbeing


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