Digital Wellbeing coming to Android, Google Home and Smart Displays

Google is rolling out Digital Wellbeing features to more Android devices, and has plans to bring these features to smart displays, Google Home and Google Assistant.

Previously only available as an optional beta ‘preview’ download to owners of Google’s Pixel handsets, now owners of OnePlus 6 handsets, along with Nokia 7 Plus and the Nokia 6.1 Plus can get access to the new Digital Wellbeing app.

Google’s approach to digital wellbeing is similar to that in Apple iOS 12, integrating the same ‘BCTs’ – behavioural change techniques – that allow users to regulate their digital habits. These BCTs are based on the the influence of goal setting and monitoring on behaviour change.

On Android, the Digital Wellbeing app can be accessed from Settings menu, and offers a dashboard overview of your digital habits. This includes total screen time, how often you check your phone, how many notifications you receive, and how frequently you use individual apps.  Google has also announced that these digital wellbeing features will be accessible by voice (Google Assistant). As with iOS 12, Android 9 users can set downtime and time limits for app usage.

Android’s Digital Wellbeing app also includes a novel Wind Down feature that allows to you set a schedule to fade your screen to Grayscale, as well as silence your device, and set a reminder to switch off your phone.

Digital Wellbeing Greyscale
Digital Wellbeing Dashboard

It is perhaps unfair to criticise a beta, but the Digital Wellbeing app is missing a couple of simple behavioural nudges that would significantly increase the effectiveness of the app.  

Firstly, the app would be more effective if it showed social comparison norms (your screen time vs averages).  Social comparison gets a bad rap as it is associated with many of the problems associated with social media (comparing your real self with other people’s Instagram self). But social comparison is also a potent motivator, and with Digital Wellbeing, Google has the opportunity to use social comparison for good.

The other trick that Google misses is the opportunity to incentivise screentime management.  The Norwegian Hold app incentivises screentime effectively, by offering free movie theatre tickets for reducing screentime.  Through Google Pay, Google would have a clear opportunity to work with in-store retailers to get people off their screen and out shopping.

Potentially more interesting is Google’s recent announcement at 10/9, that Digital Wellbeing features will also be available in Google Home Hub, Smart Displays and Smart Speakers, allow users to pause device usage for chosen periods.  Owners will also be able to use a new Filters feature to manage access to restricted content. This suggests that Google may be serious about promoting digital wellbeing, and not simply engaging in ‘wellbeing wash’ to dodge the ‘Big Tech is the new Big Tobacco’ narrative.

Written by
Dr Paul Marsden
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Digital wellbeing covers the latest scientific research on the impact of digital technology on human wellbeing. Curated by psychologist Dr. Paul Marsden (@marsattacks). Sponsored by WPP agency SYZYGY.