Apple takes steps to tackle smartphone addiction

For most young people who have grown up with smartphones, it's impossible to imagine not having their device with them at all times.

This smartphone dependency can be described as a "veritable obsession," according to Jean M Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University. The young people she interviewed for a recent study almost all slept with their smartphones nearby.

Smartphones are often the last thing people see before they go to sleep and the first thing they look at in the morning Twenge writes in her book "Generation Selfie." Now, even smartphone manufacturers are waking up to the negative consequences of dependency on the devices.

At the recent Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, Craig Federighi, head of software at the company, acknowledged that it was time to deal with the impact of smartphones on everyday life.

"For some of us, it's become such a habit that we might not even recognise how distracted we've become," he said.

Earlier this year, Apple shareholders, including the investment firm Jana Partners and a pension fund for teachers in California, issued an open letter to the company demanding that it look at the health impact of its products, particularly on children.

The company is already taking the first steps. The new iOS 12 operating system, which will also run on older iPhone models dating back to 2013, enables users to silence their phones more quickly, for example during dinner, at the cinema or at night.

It also makes it easier to switch off calls, message tones and other alerts. In addition, users will be able to see how much time they spend on individual apps or how many times they check their messages.

They can also set time limits on certain apps or games. Parents can now add tailored controls on their children's smartphones and tablets. For example, they can ensure a device can't be used after a certain time in the evening.

It's also possible to create settings where certain games, social networks and music apps can be shut down, while apps useful for homework or study can still be accessed, for example. Google has also been taking steps to address device dependency.

However, its "Digital Wellbeing" initiative may have less impact as less than 10% of users have the latest Android operating system, and younger people often use older or cheaper models.

For Apple, it makes little difference if people use their phones less once they've purchased the hardware. For companies like Facebook, things are very different. The more users are on the social network the more it benefits, as its main source of income is advertising. — dpa


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