Google and Apple are both building tools in their upcoming Android P and iOS 12 operating systems to help us balance our digital lives. Google calls it Dashboard while Apple is calling it Screen Time.
The fact that both these companies are doing this shows how complicated it has become to balance our online and offline worlds. These tools will help us disconnect from our phones by self-imposing restrictions on our usage.
Apple is also building tools to help you manage your family’s online activity across all iOS devices. This is especially helpful for families with growing kids that have their own personal gadgets such as an iPhone or iPad.
Laying down the law
Until now, it has been difficult to restrict the amount of time your kids spend on such devices, but the parental controls included in iOS 12 will allow parents to keep an eye on their kids’ online activities and usage.
This feature is called Screen Time and is now available for anyone to test through the public beta of iOS 12. Your kids will need to be a part of your iCloud family sharing for it to work.
Right away, a histogram clearly shows you how often and what time of the day your kid is using a specific category of apps such as Social or Games. This allows you to quickly see what kind of apps your kids are spending the most time on and at what hours of the day.
Tapping on any of the most-used apps allows you to set a time limit. You can set a general limit for all days or drill down to setting specific limits for each day of the week. For example, you might allow your kids to watch YouTube a little longer on weekends than on weekdays.
There’s a lot more data that’s also available to you such as how often the device was picked up as well as the amount of notifications each app sent. If you kid uses more than one iOS device, you can see this information for each individual device or across all of their devices.
Besides app limits you can also set device time limits which will allow you to make sure your kids aren’t using their devices when they’re not supposed to, such as when they’re in bed. This feature called Downtime doesn’t allow you to set individual limits for each day of the week, so you can’t allow for more time on the weekends.
However, there is an option that allows your kids to ask for more time which will come as a request on your device and you can manually approve. This could be used when kids need more time on their devices for working on a school project or talking to grandparents that live in a different time zone.
While restricting apps and usage is great, Apple allows you to set specific apps to be always available even if the device is locked. Apps such as phone or messages are such examples and will make sure you get through to your kids even if their limits are reached. We would like to see finer controls with this, such as only allowing calls or messages from certain contacts.
Last and certainly not the least, you can also prevent age restricted content on all your family’s devices. Previously, you would have to set this up on each device individually but with iOS 12, you can configure this straight from a parent’s device.
All in all, iOS 12 is shaping up to be a great release for parents and addresses one of the pain points of Apple’s mobile devices. Apple has released a public beta for iOS 12 with Screen Time but we recommend waiting for the official release later this year to start using it.