Why it matters: Google introduced Digital Wellbeing in 2018 to give users control over how much time they spend on their Android devices. Now, the company is doubling down on the initiative by releasing three experimental apps meant to subtly shame users if they spend too much time on their phones. While some might dismiss this as unnecessary, others may welcome additional ways to control their digital life.
Digital Wellbeing debuted in 2018 as an experimental feature in Android Pie. It allowed people to manage their digital lives and give some visibility as to how often they were using their smartphones. Wind Down turns on Android's Night Light feature and turns the screen to grayscale to allow your eyes to rest. Google is adding more Digital Wellbeing apps that also work to "shame" users into using their phones less.
Activity Bubbles is an interesting app that could either annoy you or help you, depending on your disposition. It will create a bubble on your wallpaper every time you unlock your phone. The longer you're on your phone, the bigger it becomes. It somewhat resembles the Google Assistant logo and only stops growing once the phone is locked again. The result is a bunch of bubbles covering your wallpaper at the end of the day (above).
Screen Stopwatch is another live wallpaper like Activity Bubbles that tries to keep you mindful of your phone use. Instead of bubbles, there is a literal timer on your wallpaper that will display your phone usage in real-time. The timer stops once the phone is locked and resumes once the phone is unlocked.
Envelope is probably the most interesting of the three. You start by printing out a PDF that's provided through the app and fold it into a phone-shaped envelope. Afterward, you put your smartphone into it and use it through a simplified UI that only gives access to the dialer and camera.
While the idea sounds simple, some people may not want to go through the hassle of printing and folding a piece of paper just to limit the use of their phones. Additionally, the user has to change back to the default phone app every time they stop using Envelope.
The open-source project is available on Github to tinker around with though it only works with the Pixel 3a for now.
Apple and Google have both introduced methods in their respective mobile operating systems to allow users to restrict their phone usage. However, Google seems to be going the extra mile with these three apps to show that they care (or appear to care) about smartphone addiction and the responsible use of technology. All three apps are available now in the Google Play Store.