Google could outdo Apple and introduce new Android features to combat people's phone addiction

Theo Wargo/GettyIt isn’t clear just yet how serious Google is about combatting smartphone addiction.
  • Google is planning new smartphone controls for Android designed to help people manage how much time they spend on their devices, The Washington Post reported.
  • According to The Post, Google will announce the changes at its annual developer conference on Tuesday.
  • The company would be going further than Apple if it tried to help wean people off their phones.
  • Major tech firms rely on design tricks to keep users hooked.

Google is planning to add settings to its operating system, Android, that are designed to help people manage how much time they spend on their phones, The Washington Post reported Monday.

There’s no detail beyond that, but Google is likely to announce the features at its annual I/O developer conference, which kicks off Tuesday.

If Google lives up to expectations and does introduce granular controls for Android, it would be going further than Apple.

Apple earlier this year promised to introduce new features to help parents control their kids’ smartphone use, but it hasn’t rolled them out or given an update. It’s possible we could see them in iOS 12 this autumn. But the company has kept quiet about helping adults who can’t wean themselves off their phones.

One particular issue for Google is that its business model is more reliant on people spending more time on their phones. And all the major consumer-software firms rely on design “nudges” to keep people hooked on their phones – from the bright, attractive colours they use to the number of notifications they send.

The Guardian on Tuesday published quotes from several experts warning that social-media companies were using the same techniques as gambling firms to keep users hooked.

Tony Fadell, one of the makers of the iPhone, has come up with three ways Apple could make the iPhone less addictive, but his advice could easily apply to Android too.

Fadell suggested a digital calendar that tracks your daily usage; an ability for people to set targets for phone use; and a “read-only” or “listen-only” mode that lets people listen to music or read an e-book without being interrupted by notifications.

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