Google Has a Plan to Stop Digital Distraction (and It’s Smarter Than Apple’s)

Jared Newman:

So when Google launched a new feature for Android phones called “Focus Mode” earlier this week, I knew exactly how I’d use it. By scheduling Focus Mode for those evening hours, I have now stopped myself from using Gmail, Slack, and Twitter without significant friction. Notifications from those apps won’t even show up on my phone until after the kids’ bedtimes.

The launch of Focus Mode highlights a subtle but important difference in how Google and Apple have approached the issue of digital distraction so far: While Apple’s Screen Time tools tend to be heavy-handed, Google has realized that it needs to allow for granularity and nuance. Otherwise, people may get frustrated and avoid using the tools at all.

On the iPhone and iPad, the closest equivalent to Focus Mode is a feature called Downtime. But instead of letting users create a blacklist of distracting apps, Downtime uses a white list that blocks everything except phone calls by default.

This approach seems too heavy-handed to me, because the biggest problems usually come from just a handful of apps. Having to enable dozens of others to work during Downtime is a hassle.

Still, Apple has always been more prescriptive in terms of deciding what it thinks works best for users. In many cases, that approach of simplicity over granularity works well. But as Google has discovered over the last year, countering digital distraction is an area in which one size does not fit all.

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