Google launches experimental apps to help reduce phone usage

Google has launched three new apps in attempt to help users reduce the time spent on their phones. These apps form part of Google’s digital well-being initiative, with one of the apps Envelope, involving physically wrapping your phone in a phone-sized paper envelope to reduce its functionality. The idea is to enhance levels of self-control when it comes to digital devices.

Smartphones are incredibly useful tools, but they can also be extremely addictive. Most users check their phones every time they receive a notification, or find themselves automatically reaching for their phone every few minutes regardless.

If you want to give Google Envelope a try it is only officially compatible with Google Pixel 3a at this moment, but there are plans to expand to other models. If you do have a Google Pixel 3a you can download Envelope from the Play Store, print out the PDF for the envelope, cut out the template, and follow the instructions to fit it around your smartphone. The PDF recommends using glue to ensure it is securely fixed around the phone. Once the phone is sealed in the envelope, you will only be able to dial phone numbers, use speed dialling or see the time on the number pad. 

Since your phone is glued inside the envelope, you will need to tear the seal and part of the paper casing to release your phone. This means you’ll probably have to make a new envelope every single time you want to use the app.

A digital detox from time to time is a great idea for everyone, but you have to wonder whether a technology company that produces the very devices that encourages these addictive behaviours is the right place to turn to for help? Our jury is out for the time being.


In summary: the latest developments from Google’s digital well-being initiative  

  • Screen Stopwatch: this is a live wallpaper for Android, which counts the number of times you unlock your phone during the day and displays it as your screen wallpaper.
  • Activity Bubbles: this is an app that places a bubble on your homescreen wallpaper each time you open your phone. The longer you spend on your phone at one time the bigger the bubble will get. If your home screen is covered in bubbles, this might be a sign that you've been on your phone for too long. 
  • Envelope: this app requires users to print a PDF envelope outline that can be folded to encase your smartphone - only allowing the user to make phone calls, take photos and videos.

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