Google explains how it's helping people kick their bad smartphone habits

Michael Somerville

Most adults own a smartphone and many say they couldn’t live without their device. However, various studies show that people struggle with smartphone addiction with some saying spending too much time on their phone negatively impacts on their relationships.

One of the biggest mobile firms' Google is trying to change this with its mindfulness tools.

In an interview with Mobile Marketing Magazine, Rose La Prairie, Product manager for digital wellbeing on Android, speaking at the Digital Wellness Festival in London, says digital wellbeing occurs when a user is happy, comfortable and “really intentional.” This means being able to put the phone down at night and being able to switch off from the phone when speaking to someone or at dinner.

To help people achieve this Google have created a digital wellbeing product which allows people to see how much they are spending on their phone and on specific apps. It also shows how many times they’ve unlocked the phone and how many notifications they’ve received. “It’s not just about those metrics, it’s about what your habits look like and whether or not you like what you’re doing,” says La Prairie.

The tool allows users to set timers for Instagram, Pinterest or YouTube or any other app to limit daily. At the end of that limit the app will pause, the icon will turn grey and your notifications will be paused.

In addition to app timers, Google has introduced ‘wind down’ - a nightly schedule which reminds users to disconnect at night; the phone changes within those set hours from colour to a grayscale colour format and notifications are turned off. This serves a clear visual reminder that you want to sleep instead of using the phone.

Google is also integrating its mindfulness features alongside its own products; YouTube will have a time watch profile to raise user awareness and Gmail will allow you to snooze emails to prevent interruptions. She says the scheduled send feature on Gmail Android is “favourite feature” which allows users to send an email for the following morning. This is helpful if you want to tick something off your to-do list but don’t want to interrupt somebody else’s time off at an inappropriate time, eg. during holidays or on weekends.

Google is also allowing users to prioritise or stack notifications so notifications for people come above businesses.

Obviously, all this work that Google is doing on mindfulness has some kind of business benefit. The happier users are on devices and apps the less likely they are going to delete them or switch to a rival like Apple. Customer Lifetime Value is also significantly increased if users are happier using Android devices and Google products and are less likely to switch from Chrome to another browser.

So, what interesting trends has La Prairie seen when users get too stressed with their phones?

“I’ve seen people delete an app on Monday and then reinstall it on Friday. At first glance it doesn’t seem to make sense to delete and reinstall the app every single week. But for them, they wanted to make sure that they’re not using during week, only on weekends. We also see families who take their phones and place them in a box at a certain time at night or people will just turn their phones off which is a completely reasonable way to think about notifications.

She adds, “With any great products you build a good product for the long term. So if the product results in me using it a lot today and then regretting it tomorrow that’s not going not be unsustainable engagement. So I think and hope that the business goals and the user goals will be very much matched over the long-term.”

“This is a responsibility we have as the Android platform and as Google.”

The wellbeing app is available on Pixel and Android One phones and can be downloaded as an optional app which any manufacturing partners can use.