Digital Wellbeing

Apple launches iOS 12 with suite of digital wellbeing features

Apple has released the latest version of its iOS mobile operating system, and perhaps the most significant change in iOS12 is a new ‘Screentime’ digital wellbeing feature designed to help users monitor and manage their screentime.

When enabled, Apple’s new digital wellbeing feature offers a number of summary usage statistics –  from the number of times you pick up your phone, to the number of notifications you receive, along with the amount of time you spend with apps and websites.

And to manage your screen time, users can set their own time limits and schedules for phone usage, categories of apps or individual apps. These screentime features can be managed for multiple phones from one device if permissions are set.

So here’s a rundown of iOS 12 digital wellbeing features

  • Screentime Dashboard (Settings -> Screentime) – See current usage for today (total and per hour) and last seven days (total and per day) including total screentime, total pickups (times you’ve picked up and interacted with the screen), per app, per app category, and number of notifications (total and by app).
  • App Limits (Settings -> Screen Time -> App Limits) – Set time limits for apps or categories of apps (e.g. social media)
  • Downtime (Settings -> Screen Time -> Downtime) – Set schedule form time away from screen
  • Night shift (available from iOS 11) – (Settings -> Display and Brightness -> Night Shift) – Set schedule for warmer screen colour, that may help with sleep
  • Do Not Disturb (updated in iOS 12) – (Settings -> Do not disturb) – Set schedule (including Bedtime) or manually set to silence notifications and calls (also auto-enable when driving)
  • Content and Privacy Restrictions – Set restrictions for content access and changes to privacy settings

From a psychological perspective, Apple is using the same basic BCTs (Behavioural Change Techniques) that other digital wellbeing tools are using.  

  • BCT#1 – Goal Setting (behaviour) – Set or agree on a goal defined in terms of the behaviour to be achieved
  • BCT #12 – Self-monitoring of behaviour – Establish a method for the person to monitor and record their behaviour(s) as part of a behavior change strategy
  • BCT #37 –  Remove aversive stimulus – Advise or arrange for the removal of an aversive stimulus to facilitate behavior change (includes ‘Escape learning’)

Whether or not these BCTs of goal setting, self-monitoring and removal of aversive stimuli (e.g. notifications) will help people manage their screentime remains to be seen.  But Apple has missed a number of tricks.  

First the iOS 12 digital wellbeing features are buried under settings menu, rather having their own dedicated app that would be more prominent and facilitate ease of access.

Second, the digital wellbeing features are scattered across various different settings, which may impede use.

And third, with the launch this month of the new iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR, Apple has decided to discontinue the small iPhone SE, which would have been an ideal device for those wishing to manage their screentime.  Instead, Apple has maxed out on screen size with immersive screen experiences, and this will tempt increased usage.  

If Apple wanted to show it is serious about digital wellbeing, then an updated iPhone SE with its 4 inch screen and with dedicated digital wellbeing features would be compelling evidence.  

In a world, where no politician is going to get criticised for attacking Big Tech, bringing back the iPhone SE – wellbeing edition – would be a smart move for Apple.


Chartered psychologist specialising in consumer behaviour, wellbeing and technology. Certified CX professional experienced in Design Thinking. A researcher, writer and speaker, Paul is head of Digital Insight at SYZYGY.

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