Software Updates by Apple and Google Help Consumers Balance Smartphone Usage

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Researchers and smartphone owners alike are beginning to recognize smartphone overuse as detrimental to one’s health and label it as addiction. A recent study of U.S. smartphone usage found that American smartphone owners check their phone an average of 47 times per day, 85% using it while in conversation with friends and family. Additionally, 47% of users have previously attempted to decrease usage, and only 30% have done so successfully.

Steve Jobs understood the negative impact too much exposure to technology could have on the public, and especially children. He notoriously allowed his kids very little screen time and preferred discussing books and history with them at dinner (Cult of Mac, 2014). Responding to the recent trend of digital detoxing, Apple and Google have finally developed software updates to help people cut back.

Although the two programs are similar, they seem to have different focuses. Apple’s “Screen Time” has a more stringent parental monitoring system which allows parents to supervise and disable any application direct from their mobile device. Google’s “Digital Wellbeing” seems to encourage children to practice self-control as it allows parents to set screen time limits in “Family Link” but does not allow them to disable or block the app remotely. Instead, Google seems to place more importance on adult screen time as it allows one to set time limits for an app and locks the individual out if they have exceeded the restraint. Apple simply sends a reminder if the individual has gone over (Dealerscope, 2018).

The slight differences between Apple’s and Google’s programs, although seemingly insignificant, could pose major long-term consequences for children. Given the opportunity, most parents would choose to heavily monitor a child’s screen time, however, this may be unhealthy for both the child and parent. If parents can constantly monitor a child’s screen time and have the choice to disable an application at any time, it is very possible that they may become obsessed with this control. Likewise, if a child has little to no independence using technology during their childhood, they are likely to rebel or overindulge once their parent can no longer manage their devices. In short, Apple’s “Screen Time” may have the reverse-effect of the intended outcome. Google’s more autonomous program may be preferable because it allows parents to manage applications and set screen time limits but has a more hands-off approach.

Prior to using these updates, one must be wary that these tools will allow Apple and Google to track and huge amounts of consumer data, a topic that is of much concern lately.