Under steady pressure from mental health advocacy groups to curb app designs that can lead to addiction and depression, tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Instagram have been adding "digital wellbeing" tools into their apps and services to address a problem that has Americans staring at their phones for an average of four hours a day.
Today, Google subsidiary YouTube announced that it's adding a number of features to the mobile app for Android and iOS to help people track their usage, take breaks, manage notifications, and reduce sleep interruptions. The update will roll out over the course of the next few weeks, so don't worry if you don't see the update right now on your phone.
The usage tracking is similar to Apple's Screen Time feature coming to iOS 12 next month (and the Digital Wellbeing app currently in beta for Android Pie). YouTube's new feature, which will be baked into the app instead of requiring a specific version of the operating system, will let you see how much time you've spent watching today, yesterday, and the past week. There's also an entry for the average amount of time you spend watching per day.
Note that YouTube's new Time Watched tool also does not track how much overall time you've spent in the YouTube app -- only how much time you spend actually streaming videos. So if you're reading or writing comments, managing your library or otherwise adjusting your app settings, browsing for things to watch, or streaming yourself live, none of that will apparently count toward the total or surface as something that you can track.
The Time Watched section will be accessible from a shortcut on the user account menu, which you open by tapping your profile picture in the upper right of the YouTube app.
Google says that this usage tracking is "based on your watch history across YouTube products (except the YouTube Music app)," so it's not limited to what you've been doing on a specific device. If you open up YouTube in a desktop web browser while logged into your Google account, or you watch via a streaming box like the Apple TV or Roku while logged in, that will count as well.
However, break reminders, notification digests, and quiet hours remain specific to the mobile app, based on our testing. The desktop version retains its own notification settings, although some of them overlap with those of the mobile version.
Leveraging Android Pie's Digital Wellbeing beta to curb app addiction
If you're one of the lucky few with Android Pie on a Pixel phone, Google's Digital Wellbeing app offers some additional time management tools that you can combine with this update to the YouTube app.
Its Dashboard section lets you set usage timers on any app you've installed, cap the number of notifications that you receive from a specific app in a 24-hour period, and cap the number of times that you open an app each day.
Lastly, the "Manage Notifications" section of Digital Wellbeing lets you see a list of all your apps, sorted by recent activity (and you can change the sorting to "most frequent"). You can tap the slider next to each entry to disable all notifications for that app until further notice, or you can tap on the name of the app to see a more detailed list for the types of notifications that the app can provide.
In Android, app notifications are normally only accessible via a menu within each app, so presenting them in a sortable list brings Android Pie in line with iOS, which has had a dedicated notifications management section in its Settings app for some time.
Digital Wellbeing also surfaces a few notification options for YouTube that are not available within the YouTube app itself: a single toggle to disable or enable all notifications, a separate notifications toggle for video downloads, and the ability to disable the "notification dot," an icon that shows up in Android's status bar when an app has a notification for you.
Interested Pixel phone owners with Android Pie can sign up for the Digital Wellbeing beta here. We hope that Google provides this app to a wider variety of users after the beta is over.
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Other wellbeing tools within the YouTube app
The announcement also heralds the break reminder feature, notification digests, and the ability to silence notifications during a set period; these are pre-existing features that used to be scattered around YouTube's settings menus, but they're now accessible within the Time Watched section.
To recap: Break reminders let you tell YouTube to remind you anywhere from 5 minutes into watching to 23 hours and 55 minutes into watching. This feature used to be only in the app's General settings section.
The notification digest option can give you a single daily notification for all of your subscription updates, instead of getting one every time a channel that you're subscribed to uploads a video. You can choose to receive your digest at any hour, on the hour. This feature used to be only in the Notifications section of the app's settings.
To set a time period in which you don't want to be distracted or woken up by any YouTube notifications, tap the slider to enable the feature and choose your desired start time and end time. Before, you used to have to scroll down to the very bottom of the Notifications section in your app settings to see this feature.
- The YouTube mobile app is getting a Time Watched feature to help you track how much content you're plowing through per day and per week. The update will roll out to Android and iOS users over the coming weeks.
- Several pre-existing time management settings have been added to the Time Watched section, so that you can find them all more easily.
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