Apple Unveils iOS Features To Combat Gadget Addiction

Apple has introduced tools in its upcoming iOS 12 aimed at helping users manage the time they and their children spend using mobile devices, following a complaint from activist investors earlier this year.

Jana Partners and Calpers wrote to Apple in January warning it faced legal or regulatory action over the issue of device usage from parents concerned about their childrens’ health.

In response, Apple has introduced parental controls that allow parents to set limits on particular apps and to schedule device downtime for their kids.

Parents set up the  features on their own devices, then use the Family Sharing feature to manage the settings on their children’s gadgets.

‘Digital wellbeing’

A new app called Screen Time also gives users details on their own usage of their iPhones and iPads, including how often they pick up the phone and which apps they use most. Users can set limits allowing them to cut back on how much time they spend on particular apps.

A Do Not Disturb feature allows users to block notifications at night or to specify end times, such as turning the feature off when the user leaves their present location or when an event ends.

Users will be presented with more options to turn off or cut back on app usage on the lock screen.

iOS 12 also includes Grouped Notifications, which aims to cut back on the endless stream of announcements on devices.

The features, launched at Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC), follow Google’s introduction of “digital wellbeing” features at its own developer event earlier this year.

In an interview with CNN earlier this week, Apple chief executive Tim Cook said the new tools showed that he himself uses his iPhone too much.

“I thought I was fairly disciplined about this, and I was wrong,” he said. “When I began to get the data, I found I was spending a lot more time than I should.”

Group FaceTime

Other new iOS 12 features include an update to the FaceTime communications tool supporting group audio and video calls for up to 32 people and iPhone X gestures for other iOS devices.

iOS will now warn users when they reuse passwords for multiple services and will automatically transfer passcodes sent via text message to the app that asked for the code – a feature already supported in Google’s Android.

Face ID can now be programmed to allow the use of more than one person’s face to unlock a device, and users can add a QR code shortcut to Control Centre for scanning such codes.

A new security feature allows users to block access to USB accessories if the phone hasn’t been unlocked for an hour – something that could make the use of law enforcement unlocking tools more difficult.

Spoken shortcuts

iOS 12 will include a Shortcuts app allowing users to program complex spoken shortcuts that launch specific apps or combinations of actions.

As an example, Apple said the spoken phrase “heading home” could launch several actions: setting a home thermostat, drawing up traffic information for a commute and sending a message to the user’s family.

Apple also introduced a new version of its ARKit augmented reality developer tool with improved face tracking and introducing experiences in which more than one person can participate.

The company said it would launch a public test version of iOS 12 later this month, with the finished software due in the autumn.

Coinciding with WWDC, Apple said this week it would take measures to improve users’ privacy, including blocking online tracking tools used by social media firms such as Facebook.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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