New Apple tools to limit screen time, and stop Facebook tracking, revealed at developers’ conference
Digital tool ‘Screen Time’ in Apple’s iOS 12 will show how long you spend on each iPhone app and let you set daily limits, while its web browser Safari will get security upgrades to stop users being tracked by other companies
Apple spoiled consumers and tech press at last year’s Apple Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) with the surprise launch of a new iPad, but 2018’s event went back to what it has always been about: software updates for developers, which in turn lead to superior apps and user experience for consumers.
Here are the most important updates coming to your iPhones, iPads, and Apple Watches this autumn.
If there is a theme for this year’s WWDC, it is Apple’s continued focus on health – both physical and mental. Two key features of its iOS 12 operating system are designed to help you interact with your device less.
The first is “Screen Time”, an app that offers in-depth analysis of your iPhone and/or iPad usage. With it, you’ll be able to see how much time you spend on your device on both a macro (overall use) and micro level (time spent in each app).
Apple says this is to help users achieve a greater balance between staring at digital screens and living life. To that end, the feature allows users to set time limits on each app. When your self-allotted time is nearly up, you’ll get a reminder to get off the app.
I think this feature, for self-use, sounds better in theory than execution. If someone is indeed addicted to, say, Instagram, they can easily override their own self-set time limit.
A more realistic, and better, usage scenario for Screen Time is for parents to control their children’s phone usage. Imagine you’re the parent of a teenage daughter and you can shut off her access to Instagram or chat apps? Another iOS 12 feature that is marketed as helping users turn away from the phone is grouped notifications with an improved interface – though I think this is merely Apple playing catch up in user experience.
iOS 12 finally goes with Android’s approach of grouping notifications by app or sender. At WWDC, Apple framed this as helping you sleep better due to a cleaner lock screen.
Two other big features of iOS 12 that will prove popular with most users is group FaceTime that supports up to 32 people in one video call, and “Me-Moji” (exclusive to iPhone X), which is like the Animoji from last year, but improved to allow users to create a likeness of themselves.
Over the past year Apple has shifted the marketing strategy of the Apple Watch from a productivity-driven smartwatch to more of a fitness-centric wearable, so it makes sense that WatchOS 5’s biggest additions are mostly fitness driven. The new WatchOS will be able to track workouts automatically when it senses its user is doing some form of exercise. The Watch’s workout interface will also be able track yoga for the first time, and hiking in more detail.
The Watch will also encourage competition among friends, with workout challenges to see who can close more “fitness rings” within a set amount of time.
The new WatchOS feature that may ultimately prove most useful is the new Walkie Talkie app that allows Watch users to speak to each other via one-off voice messages.
Continuing its California landmark-themed naming, the new MacOS is named Mojave and brings mostly cosmetic changes that should prove useful. Of these, the feature that most excited the 6,000-plus crowd of developers there is “Dark Mode”, which, as the name suggests, turns the computer’s themes into a black- and grey-dominated shade that is easier on the eyes.
Apple’s web browser Safari will also get new security upgrades that prevent sites such as Facebook – which Apple singled out during the presentation – from tracking users.
While there was no sexy hardware introduced at this year’s WWDC, Apple is at least focusing its software where it should be – improving digital wellness and addressing privacy concerns, both increasingly popular topics, at least for its home market in America.