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Google's experimental apps shame you into taming phone addiction

Jon Fingas
Associate Editor
Google

Google is still exploring ways to help you cut back on phone use, and this time it's relying primarily on one tactic: guilt. The company has introduced the experimental Android apps Activity Bubbles, Envelope and Screen Stopwatch, all three of which shame you into reduced phone time. Envelope is by far the strangest -- you print a paper envelope that, along with the app, forces you to use your phone as a simple call- or photo-only device until necessity or temptation leads you to tear the seal. It only works for the Pixel 3a at the moment, but it may be a cheaper alternative to buying a simple secondary phone just to rein in your habits.

The other two are simpler visual reminders of your phone obsession. Activity Bubbles (shown at left) creates a bubble in your home screen background every time you unlock your phone, and it gets larger the longer you use the device. Screen Stopwatch (at right), meanwhile, tells you how long you've used your phone in real-time, making it impossible to escape your overuse.

As is the case with Google's other digital wellbeing efforts, the challenge is simply maintaining enough self-discipline to use and respect these apps in the first place. It could be all too tempting to ignore Activity Bubbles and Screen Stopwatch if you just have to check your friend's latest Instagram posts. If you're sincerely dedicated to tempering your phone use, though, these might be just what you need.