Solving Temptation: iOS Zen Concept

Update: Apple just announced Screen Time and Do Not Disturb features which share much overlap like Allowance and usage stats

“Temptation usually comes in through a door that has deliberately been left open.”

Have you ever closed Facebook just to immediately open it up again a second later for no reason? At times even the strongest of will powers succumb to social media and games when they should be focusing elsewhere. Paradoxically, sometimes the best thing our phones could do is encourage us to put them down for a bit and drive our attention elsewhere. While Apple has historically focused on physical health with its Health and Activity apps, emphasis on mental wellbeing has been minimal.

In my previous concept Do Not Disturb Recipes I discussed how smart notifications could drastically minimize distractions-

With iOS Zen, I want to explore the next phase of escalation- keeping our temptation in check is by self-imposing restrictions on distracting apps.

Imagine the next time you have a tight deadline, you could easily restrict Instagram access for 45 minutes to keep you focused on the task at hand…

Once restricted, Instagram’s icon becomes grayscale in order to make the app less appealing and discourage use. If the user caves in and wants to use the app before the timer is up, the lock screen could serve as the first line of defense by displaying an encouraging message along with a countdown time. If they get past the lock screen, tapping the grayscale Instagram icon could display the following:

If worst comes to worst and the user gives up, there are some interesting possibilities to regain access:

  • Game- solving a memory puzzle, or playing simple trivia just annoying enough to discourage users.
  • Physical exercise- performing jumping jacks or a running a lap around the block (using phone’s sensors)
  • Social pressure- sending a text or tweeting a humorous message indicating weak will power
  • 3rd Parties- maybe allow for integration with other apps for more interesting possibilities
  • Donations- to your favorite nonprofit, or maybe one you despise
  • Restart phone

Zen Mode

The next logical step would be to give users a more systematic way to restrict access to distracting apps, such as scheduling. Much like my Do Not Disturb concept, geofences, and nearby friends could also be used as trigger mechanisms to enable Zen Mode. For example, whenever you’re near your best friends, access to social media apps is restricted.


Attention Allowance

Another approach to managing distractions is enabling users to set a daily or weekly allowance of minutes they could spend on addictive apps.

The concept of an allowance presents an interesting possibility for an attention economy where users could earn Mindful Minutes (pre-existing Health app metric) in order to spend them on social media, games, or other distractions.

For example:

  • Exercising- work out for an hour, access social media for an hour.
  • Decrease phone usage- every 20 uninterrupted minutes you go without checking your phone, you earn 10 min to spend on your favorite game.
  • Donations- every dollar donated to favorite charity earns you minutes.
  • Positive Apps- every hour spent reading on iBooks earns you minutes
  • 3rd Parties- earn time by receiving good grades on Blackboard, sticking to a budget on Mint, driving safely via Automatic, etc

Mindful Overview

The main screen displays users’ daily Mindful Minutes goal and how close they are to achieving it, along with the top 5 apps that consume the most time. Some other “Top 5" lists I considered were “number of times opened apps” and “most notifications sent” but I’m not certain how useful they would be in reality.


Do Not Disturb Recipes

Once again, my concept for Do Not Disturb Recipes seems extremely relevant here. The “My Recipes” screen could be accessed within the Zen app, giving users granular control of notifications.


The powerful combination of portable hardware mixed with appealing software has the uncanny ability to exploit our psychological vulnerabilities to hijack our attention. It’s not only time we start locking the door through which temptation enters, but jam it with a door stopper in case we intentionally leave it unlocked as well.

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