We are bound to our phones. Back in 2012, two Italian psychiatrists proposed adding nomophobia, fear of being without one’s cell phone, to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the definitive catalog of psychiatric disorders. That hasn’t happened yet, but it is inarguable that more adults (and kids) are overusing their phones and potentially developing dependences that border on or could even qualify as full-blown smartphone addiction.
The widespread overuse of mobile devices — and the phubbing it leads to — gave rise to a cottage industry of, well, phone apps designed to help people limit their smartphone usage. The irony of this is not lost. We’ve even reached a point where Apple and Google, the makers of the dominant smartphone operating systems, are including such features in the default versions of those operating systems.
The jury is still out on the efficacy of these apps, but if you’ve found yourself spending too much time on your phone they’re worth a shot. Here are 9 tools that are designed to help curb smartphone addiction.
Apple iOS 12’s Screen Time
Apple’s recently-updated mobile software includes small tweaks and brand-new features designed to help you reduce and monitor the time you spend on your iOS device.
First and foremost, iOS 12 includes a new app called Screen Time. The purpose of the app is to, simply enough, give parents control over the content their kids consume. Through Screen Time, which lives in the iPhone’s settings, you can set limits on how much time you and your kids spend on any given app. You can set restrictions on any device linked through Apple’s Family Sharing platform to put time limits on both apps and websites.
iOS 12 also has some other helpful features. Notifications are grouped and easier to dismiss en masse. Siri will help by recommending apps that should send notifications based on your past behavior checking then ignoring them. Do Not Disturb during Bedtime mode dims the display and mutes notifications at night, so you’re less tempted to play just one more game at bedtime. You can also set limits on applications and generally receive a better idea of just how much your screen dominates your life in order to be better.
Android’s Pie offers similar features to iOS12, which is automatically on your device once you update. The operating system’s App timers let you set daily limits in terms of time spent in each app. It also lets you restrict app notifications (the fewer to bug you with) and a Do Not Disturb mode, which silences notifications and visual interruptions (though calls from starred contacts will come through.) Android Pie’s App Dashboard gives you a daily view of the time you spent on your phone, app by app, and a tally of the number of notifications you received, which is likely way more than you’d guess. The bedtime feature, Wind Down, gradually fades the display to grayscale, making it less visually stimulating, and automatically activates Do Not Disturb overnight.
Boundless Mind, the company that makes Space, also sells companies “advanced software tools that shape and control user behavior.” Space uses the same tech, but in reverse. You can (and should) question the morality of helping create and solve the same problem, but more important is what Space actually does. The app allows you to create and add custom icons to the home screen of your iOS device. Touch one of these and you enter a “Moment of Zen,” a few seconds of breathing prompts, before being redirected to the app. Basically, Space is designed to short-circuit the instant gratification that is part of what makes apps so addictive. Available at: iOS App Store
This app fuses two very common goals: decreasing screen time and increasing physical activity. It blocks applications you specify until you walk a specific number of steps every day. It’s Android only, and you can lock yourself out of two different apps with the free version. Pay for an upgrade and you can add more apps and set a specific schedule (if, for instance, you don’t mind giving yourself a lazy Sunday). Available at Google Play Store
Moment is another app that tracks your screen time and lets you set time limits for particular apps. What makes it unique is its social abilities, which are designed for families. When you (or your kids) activate Dinner Time, no one with the app can use their device without a loud, annoying alert going off. It’s a bit obnoxious, but if device use at the dinner table (or during other family activities) is a problem for your family it could be an effective solution. There’s also a family scoreboard, which can make spending less time on devices into something of a competition. It’s iOS-only, free for individual use or $4 a month if you want to use the family features. You can buy more months at a time at a discounted rate. Available at iOS App Store
This app is made for times when you need to focus on something specific that using your phone might distract you from. Open the app and plant a virtual tree. Leave the app open and in the foreground and the tree will continue to grow taller. Exit or minimize the app to use other apps on your phone and the tree dies. The company even plants real trees through a non-profit as more and more virtual trees are grown in its app, which is $2 on iOS and Android. Available iOS App Store or Google Play Store
This app allows you to set goals and nudges you get off your phone as you approach those goals. It has social features like groups and friend challenges that can help you stay motivated by tapping into a web of support and friendly competition. Use Full Lock mode to hide distracting apps and games. It’s available on iOS and Android as a free basic version or a premium version, with unlimited schedules and the ability to join multiple groups, for $6 a month or $24 a year. Available at iOS App Store or Google Play Store
Don’t let the overly cute name distract you; lilspace is a pretty clever app. It provides incentives for people to take breaks from their phones. The more unplugged time you “tag” in the lilspace app, the more perks you can earn and donations you can facilitate. Perks include lilspace swag and discounts from online retailers. A recent cause, an elephant sanctuary, received $1 for every hour of unplugged time lilspace users logged. It’s available for free for iOS and Android. Available at: iOS App Store and Google Play Store