2018 - the year Apple and Google developed a conscience
2018 could have been a fitting milestone for a smartphone backlash. Fears about the time we spend on our devices had reached boiling point. Worse, our children seemed to be picking up bad habits.
But the imminent anti-device revolution was placated just in time. Where Apple and Google previously sold their devices with new time-sinking capabilities and constant-connectivity, this year they seemed to grow a conscience, instead offering new ways to get your time back.
In Apple's latest iOS12 update in September, blue light from screens – which studies suggest might stop us sleeping well – was fixed with an automatic, warmer screen tone in the evening.
Its 'Clock' app can even tell you when to go to bed for a full night's sleep.
Weekly 'screen time' reports could monitor, control, and report back on your usage with charts and graphs.
Similarly, Google introduced a novel feature on its phones which turns your screen from full-colour to black-and-white in effort to dissuade you from too much mindless scrolling.
The 'Fabulous - Daily Motivation' app in the App Store
App developers followed suit. Apple recently recognised 'self-care' as its app trend of 2018, highlighting apps such as ‘#SelfCare’, which teaches breathing exercises, the ‘10% Happier: Meditation’ app with guided meditations, and ‘Fabulous - Daily Motivation’, which promises a way to not only lose weight, but increase focus, practice yoga, and work more efficiently.
Some manufacturers didn’t think software updates were enough to curb the imminent backlash.
Having felt a need in the market for an escape from complicated, pocket-sized computers, 2018 hailed the return of the ‘dumbphone’.
The 'Lightphone II'
Nokia, a phone manufacturer previously in its prime before anyone knew what an iPhone was, released the ‘8110’. The flip-phone of sorts, comes complete with a smaller screen and good old-fashioned physical keys.
The Light Phone II was introduced as well, a phone the size of a business card with a black and white display. No colour screen, no web browser, and no apps – it just makes texts and calls. On the company’s website it claims the device is a "phone that actually respects you".
For businesses with an accompanying app, there's a lesson to be learnt from the 'self-care' trend of 2018.
Empowered users are beginning to recognise when tech which is bad for them. It might explain why Facebook – which has had its fair share of bad press this year, at the expense of its users - reportedly lost a million active users a day across Europe from October 2018.
If the trend continues into 2019, businesses hoping to keep in touch with their users will have to put them above marketing targets and even profit margins. Notifications and emails will need to be less like an annoying mosquito and more like an infrequent, welcome butterfly.
For all the new apps and devices available, smartphone manufacturers paradoxically can’t offer time away from the device itself.
Unlike in previous years, the apps are no longer in charge. Those that continue to act that way will be unsubscribed, muted or deleted faster than ever before.
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