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Apple demonstrates its conflicted position on smartphone addiction with iOS 12

Apple ios12 screen-time

Gadget giant Apple made its devices more addictive while at the same time offering some tools to help people cope in the latest version of its mobile OS.

The latest version of iOS – 12 – has a bunch of novelty features apparently designed to appeal to children, including adjustable animated emojis, novelty camera effects and shared augmented reality experiences. At the same time it seemed to acknowledge its responsibility for ensuring kids occasionally leave the house and interact with the real world by introducing more tools to help limit smartphone use.

“We’re very excited about the new communications features we’re bringing to iPhone and iPad with Memoji, a more personal form of Animoji, fun camera effects and Group FaceTime,” said Craig Federighi, Apple’s SVP of Software Engineering. “With iOS 12, we’re enabling new experiences that weren’t possible before. We’re using advanced algorithms to make AR even more engaging and on-device intelligence to deliver faster ways to get things done using Siri.”

“In iOS 12, we’re offering our users detailed information and tools to help them better understand and control the time they spend with apps and websites, how often they pick up their iPhone or iPad during the day and how they receive notifications.

“We first introduced parental controls for iPhone in 2008, and our team has worked thoughtfully over the years to add features to help parents manage their children’s content. With Screen Time, these new tools are empowering users who want help managing their device time, and balancing the many things that are important to them.”

Here are the main things introduced in iOS 12:

  • Faster – Apple chucked out various suspiciously rounded-off percentages to show how much faster everything is when you use the new OS.
  • Shared AR experiences – persistent AR experiences tied to a specific location, object recognition and image tracking are all part of the second generation of Apple’s ARKit for developers.
  • Fun stuff – Memojis are Animojis that you can personalise, just when you thought they couldn’t get any funner. There are also new camera filters and things you can superimpose onto images to make them yet more fun.
  • Group FaceTime – group audio/video calling.
  • Siri shortcuts – suggestions and shortcuts to Siri commands that the Apple AI reckons you might want to use at a given time and place.
  • Saving you from yourself – giving users more power over things like notifications and augmenting the ‘do not disturb’ function to stop people getting in touch when you’re trying to concentrate on stuff.
  • Saving your kids from themselves – Screen Time is the feature that allows you to monitor how much time you or your kids spend on the device and on specific apps. It also allows you to limit the amount of time spent on an app and block access to the whole device at certain times.
  • Privacy – a tweak to the Safari browser are designed to help block social media “Like” or “Share” buttons and comment widgets from tracking users without permission.

“It came as little surprise that Apple introduced a suite of apps to address the growing levels of addiction to mobile devices,” said Ben Wood of CCS Insight. “The tools specifically designed to analyse and manage the amount of time kids spends on Apple devices will be a welcome, but potentially alarming new feature for many parents.”

“Apple’s focus on social responsibility closely followed that of Google at I/O and illustrates a new appreciation among the tech giants of their role in helping people manage their daily engagement with technology”

“It’s a smart move for Apple to reflect the current concerns around security and privacy with new tools to prevent web companies from actively tracking your browsing activity. Although it will be largely transparent to most consumers, it will help further Apple’s efforts to differentiate its products from rivals with strong security credentials.”

These tools are all well and good but if parents are looking to Apple to teach their kids balance and moderation then they might want to consider the extent of their own reliance on devices. A decade after the start of the modern smartphone era people seem to be increasingly questioning their relationship with these ubiquitous gadgets and how insidiously reliant on them we have become. That’s healthy and Apple is wise to accommodate it.


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