The Baffling Omission From Apple iOS Screen Time
Apple’s goal to actively encourage screen time
I am heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem and have watched it evolve over time. Coincidentally, as my kids started to get their own apple devices, family sharing and screen time also came into being.
These are great features in theory and awareness of your screen time (and potential to enable restrictions) is an essential ingredient to a healthy relationship with our devices, for adults as well as children.
So Apple’s omission of one simple but key feature is utterly baffling until you realise their real goal.
Search the internet for how-to’s on managing kids screen times and you find thousands of articles explaining how to limit individual app usage or using the downtime feature to set fixed periods of time offline. But none tell you how to set an overall device time limit. Even when contacting Apple Support they confirmed that it just can’t do it. Let’s look at why this is a problem and why apple might just be doing this deliberately.
Screen Time is great if you want to limit individual app usage (i.e. 30mins of YouTube per day). You can even set app categories such as “Games” which apply the limit to all apps within that category, but importantly only individually, not cumulatively.
Sometimes all I want to do is give one of my kids 1hr of true ‘screen time’ which they can use in whatever way they wish. Either 1hr of one app, or 10 minutes of 6 different apps. Or even 15 minute slots across the whole day totalling 1hr. I want them to choose, not for me to define individual app limits.
It’s the same with Downtime. I can create 1hr slots manually at the point that I want to give them it, but that slot will change each and every day and require daily manual intervention. There seems to be no way to set up a flexible time allowance.
Other than a parent’s concern about the appropriateness of individual apps, I would imagine the next priority is providing limits of overall screen exposure.
Why on earth doesn’t Apple think this is worth designing in?
This question bothered me for a while and I refused to believe they hadn’t thought of this need. And if they hadn’t overlooked it, then it follows that they simply chose to not do it. Why?
And then it dawned on me; they want you using their products. They want to developing a connection regularly and repeatedly throughout the day. Screen Time is a nod to appease those concerned about digital device addiction, without actually limiting usage in a meaningful way.
Limits are so specific that you need to keep picking up your device just to make daily changes. Which in itself connects you back to your device.
And that’s the name of their game. Its not enough that they keep you connected through their infrastructure and ecosystem, they want your habits and behaviours to also keep you as a paying customer. It’s a double lock-in.
It’s a shame really, but not really surprising. Brand loyalty only goes so far when the chips are down.
I’m sure I’ll work out a way around it (there’s probably a 3rd party paid monthly subscription option out there) but its frustrating.
My hope though is that I’ve missed a simple and obvious feature (one that Apple themselves don’t seem to know about) to address this need. If you know a way, please comment below, my sanity needs your solution!
Thanks for reading.