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Screen Time VS Digital Wellbeing - Apple has won this round | Tech Talks

Every year, at around the same time, both Google and Apple, announce the new versions of their Mobile operating systems - Android & iOS respectively. Irrespective of how differently both of them started out, they are now more alike than ever. Both the mobile operating systems offer an almost similar feature set and functionality, albeit in slightly different ways.

Even the new features, that they announce at their developer events, seem like they were copied from one another!
Screen Time VS Digital Wellbeing | Tech Talks

Take for example this year's developer conferences. At Google's I/O 2018 event, Android P (Android Pie) was announced with a feature called Digital Wellbeing which would allow users to keep track of how they use their smartphone and to help them control this addiction.

A few weeks later, at WWDC 2018, Apple announced a similar feature called Screen Time in iOS 12. Of course, it is very difficult to say who copied whom because even if Google held their event first, Apple couldn't have just added such a huge functionality into iOS within 2-3 weeks.

This just goes on to show how the mobile operating systems have matured over the last decade, and how similar the companies are thinking when adding new features to their respective OS's.

I, however, feel that despite offering a similar functionality with Digital Wellbeing, Google has lost to Apple's Screen Time this year.

Let me explain why!

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What is Digital Wellbeing/Screen Time

Before I go ahead and explain my reasons why I think Google lost to Apple this year, lets first talk about these functionalities and understand what they exactly do.

We all are hooked on to our smartphones these days, that's a fact

Whether it be for their cameras, social media, browsing the web or just consuming media, we spend a more than ideal amount of our free time glued to our devices. This is becoming a much bigger problem with children who, in their young age, are wasting time and jeopardising their health, glued to smartphones when they should be out playing and doing physical activities.

Digital Wellbeing and Screen Time are attempts by Google and Apple respectively to make the users aware of their excessive usage and help them curb this addiction. These features monitor our usage, including every time we unlock our devices or receive notifications, and them present this data weekly in easy to read charts. They tell us which app has been taking up a lot of our time.

Google Digital Wellbeing
 Apple Screen Time

Then they also have the option to lock down an app after a specified duration of usage each day. Of course, we can choose to ignore this limit if required, but if we are seriously trying to curb our smartphone addiction, then encountering such limitations can definitely help in the first place.

Apple has beaten Google!

Yes, Apple has beaten Google this year when it comes to this Digital Health feature.

And No, it's not because Digital Wellbeing, offered by Google, is lacking in any way.

Digital Wellbeing and Screen Time are more similar than either company would have liked. They both seem like a copy of each other. Only the Digital Wellbeing has the Google Touch with its Material design theme whereas Screen Time is truly Apple with its great polished look. Feature and details wise, they offerings are similar.

Why Apple beats Google is because Screen Time is available to a large number of users unlike Google's Digital Wellbeing.

As we all know, Screen Time is one of the biggest features of iOS 12. And iOS 12 has seen the largest release till date. Devices as old as iPhone 5s (launched way back in 2013) have received this update, and this feature. Hence, the majority of the Apple iPhone/iPad users have access to and are using, this feature every day. It is fully functional and working.

Apple iOS 12
Source: DigitalTrends

Google's Digital Wellbeing, on the other hand, is launched with Android 9 Pie. We are all aware of the sorry state of Android updates in the Android ecosystem. Currently, only Pixel devices and a handful of other handsets like Oneplus 6 run on Android 9 Pie. Majority of Android handsets haven't even received Android oreo update and may never get the Pie update.

Android distribution chart
Source: Google Android
Data as on September 2018

If that wasn't bad enough, the Digital Wellbeing functionality is still in beta. Though it is available as a standalone app in the play store, it is not compatible with any other Android 9 Pie running phones except the pixel. I have checked it myself on Android Pie running OnePlus 6. Of course, if you know how to, you could get an apk and sideload it but that's not how features should work.

Even after sideloading the app, the wind-down feature of Digital Wellbeing (which blocks app usage after a specified time, and turn the screen grayscale so that you can sleep) doesn't yet work. This is because the app is still in beta.

Final Thoughts

Android is a very capable and amazing mobile operating system. And with it and iOS being so similar today, it is hard to criticise either of them. Each has its own merits and demerits.

However, the age of problem of fragmentation has limited what Android could have achieved. Yes, it does boast the numbers of being the world's most popular and widely used mobile operating system. But there is no continuity and coherence. Every OEM adds its own touch on top of Android and one can't expect to get the same features when one changes devices. 

If own a pixel 3 today and use Digital wellbeing, I will lose this feature if I buy and switch to OnePlus 6T when it launches.

This fragmentation hurts the Android ecosystem badly. And this shows with the Digital Wellbeing feature as well. As great as this feature may be, what's the use if the majority of the people, using an Android device, are unable to use it.

I am an ardent Techie and a Free Thinker. I love to explore new topics and technologies, and share my knowledge and views with the world.
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