From the time the first iPhone launched, until very recently, when Apple began discouraging the practice, people lined up for days outside Apple stores for new hardware. From the get-go, digital addiction meant corporate profit. Now Apple is telling us to put our phones down – but why?
Every year at WWDC, Apple reminds the world how many apps its iOS App Store has, the number of downloads achieved, and how much developers have been paid. It’s a feedback loop suggesting that apps are core to our lives.
Starting with iOS 12, Apple will introduce tools to allow its users to throttle down their use of apps. Notifications can also become background noise; users can choose to have them show in the Notification Center without flashing across the phone’s lock screen.
The Apple Watch is also pinching some functionality from iPhone. Starting this Fall, the Watch’s notifications will become more interactive. You will be able to do things like rate a Lyft driver and pay for a ride, or confirm a reservation and size of your party, on the watch. These are tasks the Watch currently hands off to the phone.
Siri is also getting better. Siri Shortcuts are an opportunity for developers and users alike to create voice-first enhancements to apps, and will also show on the Apple Watch’s Siri face. These wrist-centric Shortcuts will be contextual; if you typically leave the office at 6:00 PM, a shortcut for your evening routine will surface around that time.
For now, this all seems geared toward users having more meaningful and brief experiences with apps and services. It’s also an attack on social media, which is a known depressant. Apple’s concern for your health seems to extend to how – and why – you use apps: Instead of you obsessively monitoring Instagram or Facebook, it would rather you check in occasionally.
App Limits is also a parenting tool, with moms and dads assigning ‘allowances’ for app time.
It’s entirely possible these moves are altruistic. There’s no clear advantage for Apple to ask that we use our phones less right now. It may even have a side-effect on device sales, if a broad base of users feel less compelled to upgrade their devices annually or every 24 months. In an interview with CNN, Apple CEO Tim Cook admitted he’s also guilty of ‘overusing’ his phone.
But it could also be a set-up. Augmented reality is big for Apple, and this year it announced two-player AR. Pundits claiming to have insight into Apple’s business say an augmented reality headset is coming, and the ‘set your phone down’ play could be Apple trying to change our behavior before a headset arrives.
Even if that’s the case, and this mystery headset is coming soon, less Facebook usage is a positive move. So is monitoring screen time for yourself (and maybe your kids). Even if our environment is soon augmented by Apple glasses, obsessing less about what your sophomore-year college roommate is up, and spending more time enjoying your own life now, is smart.