SAN JOSE, Calif. — Apple will offer more ways for people to limit the time they spend on iPhones while introducing features designed to make its products even more indispensable.
The paradox emerged Monday as Apple executives previewed new versions of free software due out this fall.
The forthcoming controls are aimed at addressing criticism that devices are becoming increasingly addictive and distracting, especially for children during their formative years. Yet Apple made it clear it also hopes to make its devices and services even more alluring — and potentially irresistible — by creating new avenues for its digital assistant, Siri, to serve as a backup brain for its users. The company is also creating more entertainment options and new ways to communicate, including a way for up to 32 people to join a group video chat through FaceTime.
People have become so dependent on technology that it’s unlikely any company will be able to solve the addiction problem, but they can help keep it from getting worse, Gartner analyst Brian Blau said.
“Life itself can be addicting so what maybe the best we can hope for is for technology to help us enjoy it and then get out of the way, as much as possible,” Blau said. “Apple at least seems to be hearing what people are saying and trying to do something about it.”
Apple’s new controls will expand on the iPhone’s “Do Not Disturb” options. The phone’s screen can also be set to dim automatically just before bedtime. Users can also block app notifications from showing up on the home screen not only based on time of day, which they can do now, but by location, such as when visiting the playground with their kids.
Other features will provide weekly reports on how much time people are spending looking at their screen each month. Users will be able to set daily time limits on specific apps.
Last month, Google revealed plans to force Android phones into “shush” mode when placed face down on a table and have the screen show only greyscale colors late at night. Both companies’ efforts come as experts worry that all the flashy colors and beeps give users short-term, feel-good rewards while increasing stress in the long run.
Other highlights during Apple’s annual software preview include:
BETTER BROWSING PRIVACY
Apple is taking a swipe at ubiquitous “share” buttons created by Facebook and others to track users’ behavior online regardless of whether they click on them. The company says it’s shutting down that tracking, unless the user decides to permit it, through a Safari browser update for Mac and iOS devices, including iPhones and iPads.
Apple also intends to crack down on data companies’ ability to identify specific devices by creating a unique fingerprint based on a device’s settings, installed fonts and plug-ins. Instead, Apple will send out generic information to make all Apple devices look alike.
Unlike Facebook and Google, Apple doesn’t depend on online ads dictated by a user’s interests to make money. Instead, Apple generates most of its revenue from the sale of devices. That difference gives Apple little incentive to collect personal information so it can target ads.
Chris Hoofnagle, faculty director of the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology, believes Apple’s move will prod rivals Mozilla and Microsoft to do the same, though Google may remain a holdout with the Chrome browser given the company’s dependence on ads and data.
The announcement comes as Facebook acknowledges it struck data-sharing deals with at least 60 device makers, including Apple. Facebook insists there was nothing scandalous about them and says they were designed to make it easier for people to post to Facebook or use other social features without opening its app or website.
AUGMENTED REALITY GETS AUGMENTED
Apple rolled out new support for augmented reality applications as it unveiled a new format for digital objects that appear to live in the real world.
The update comes as Apple tries to extend AR experiences to a broader population, rather than just hard-core, tech-savvy users — one of CEO Tim Cook’s top priorities. The company started that effort last year when it built AR tools into most iPhones and iPads; by contrast, Google had limited that to niche Android phone models.
Digital objects created with the new format, called USDZ, will work in Apple’s Safari browser, Messages and Mail apps, meaning AR isn’t limited to stand-alone apps that people choose to download separately. What remains to be seen is whether there is enough of a compelling reason for someone to use AR, even if it’s built-in to everyday apps.
Apple wants its digital assistant Siri to do more. Third-party apps will now be able to let users invoke Siri for commonly used tasks, much the way competing assistants from Google and Amazon long have. Before, Apple had limited third-party access to a handful of categories, such as messaging. But Ben Wood, head of research at CCS Insight, said Apple still has a lot of work to do to close the cap with Amazon and Google.
PHOTOS AND GROUP CHATS
Apple will encourage users to share photos with their friends by suggesting such opportunities in a new “for you” tab. When a friend receives photos from an event, Apple will then suggest that the friend reciprocate with photos from the same event. It’s similar to how Google already encourages sharing through its own Photos app for both iPhones and Android devices.
The company is bringing the Dolby Atmos surround-sound feature to Apple TV 4K devices, along with new screen saver images of Earth from outer space.
Apple Watch’s software gets a light voice messaging feature called “Walkie Talkie” that resembles the alternating one-way voice technology of the past. It also adds podcasts to one’s wrist. The watch will also automatically detect workouts without having to launch the fitness app.
In a move to better make its Macs and iPhones work together, Apple showed off how iPhones could be used to take pictures that instantly appear inside documents created on the computer. It is also bringing iOS apps such as Home, News, Stocks and Voice Memos to Macs. The new macOS version, Mojave, and also adds screensavers and desktop backgrounds that appear to change from light to dark over the course of a day.