Trying to Use Your Phone Less? These Apps Might Be Able to Help

Google’s experimental Digital Wellbeing apps tackle excessive phone usage in some interesting ways.


You probably use your phone too much. We all do. Maybe you are even using it too much right this very second! (Keep reading though, don’t stop just yet!) While solutions range from uninstalling problem apps to going off the deep end with a phone that doesn’t even support them, Google has introduced a few experimental apps that split the difference in some interesting ways.

Part of Google’s ongoing Digital Wellbeing Experiments, the trio of Android apps help you confront your phone usage with varying levels of severity. Screen Stopwatch is the most blunt, replacing your homescreen wallpaper and lock screen with a large timer that simply counts up as you use your phone. Activity Bubbles accomplishes the same basic thing, but with a degree of abstraction by replacing the literal timer with a series of bubbles that will fill your screen as the day goes on. Neither of the apps will prevent you from using your phone, but they will make you aware of how much you are doing it.

The most extreme of the three is Google’s “Envelope” app, which is mostly interesting as a thought experiment given that, for now, it is only compatible with the Pixel 3a. To use it, you print out a piece of paper which you then fold into a phone-sized envelope, using your phone through the paper, thanks to a handful of printed buttons. The result, depending on the envelope you choose, can be a phone that is only a phone, or a phone that gives you access to just your camera. AIt’s an intriguing idea, though one that does require a bit of effort, and it’s easy to see how the camera-centric version could a fun way to relive the thrill of old-school film cameras with none of the cost or pain. That is, other than the printing bit.

All three of the apps are currently available for free on the Google Play Store, and while they’re clearly and self-admittedly experiments for now, maybe they can lead to a broader suite of features that can help save us from our screens.

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