Over the past year or so, Google, Apple and third-party app developers have been working on ways to help you manage how much time you spend staring at your phone or tablet. As some social media platforms are increasingly blamed for phone addiction, there comes mounting pressure to rein in potentially manipulative tricks designed to keep people glued to an app for as long as possible, and Google's Digital Wellbeing app is one such method.
There's just one problem. Although this app can track how much you use others apps, set time limits on their usage, and establish times of day in which an app's use is prohibited altogether, Digital Wellbeing is currently limited to Google's Pixel and Android One phones. These represent a small slice of an Android phone market that's largely occupied by Samsung.
However, the makers of Action Launcher have just released their own version of Digital Wellbeing called ActionDash, which is compatible with most Android phones that use at least version 5.0 of Google's mobile operating system. It's visually very similar to the official Digital Wellbeing app, and there are some extra features if you're willing to pay a small one-time fee.
The extra perks include a dark mode, data backup and restore, customizable time windows, and the removal of ads. (Currently, the app only shows "house ads" promoting the features of the paid version.) The Plus feature package is an in-app purchase of $6.99.
However, our app testing did not reveal a section for controlling app usage, either in the free or paid versions. ActionDash can only monitor and report (although it says that the data it collects is only shown to you -- none of it is transmitted from your phone).
Our research indicates that this is actually common for Android apps that attempt to replicate Google's official app, likely due to security restrictions. The Mountain View-based company has historically taken a dim view of apps that can interfere with other apps on your device, and so it apparently doesn't grant these unofficial trackers the ability to block or restrict other apps.
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Certain apps in this category can produce notifications and other alerts when you use an app outside of its allotted usage window, such as Minify. But based on our testing, only the official Digital Wellbeing app has the power to actually block an app from opening.
With Google's app tied to Android 9.0 Pie, an operating system estimated to be on less than 10 percent of all Android devices, it may be a while before the rest of us get access to the more advanced capabilities of Digital Wellbeing.
- The makers of Action Launcher have just released ActionDash, which can monitor your app usage in the same manner as Google's Digital Wellbeing app. The latter of the two is currently only available for Pixel and Android One phones, while ActionDash can be used on most phones that run Android 5.0 or newer.
- However, ActionDash doesn't allow you to block the usage of apps outside of your designated time windows; based on our research, only Google's official app has the power to stop other apps from loading.
- 6 apps to help break your smartphone addiction
- 7 apps to help break bad habits in 2019
- Apple is removing competing third-party screen time apps that break its data privacy policies
- Facebook, Twitter are designed to act like 'behavioural cocaine' (CNET)
- Facebook, Instagram get more digital wellness controls (ZDNet)
- How tech companies lost control of their products (TechRepublic)