This fall, Google will brings Digital Wellbeing, a new suite of settings designed to curb smartphone addiction, to its Android operating system.
This follows a company-wide effort to help customers take control of how they use Google services and devices - and now it looks like Digital Wellbeing will be coming to the Assistant and Home smart speaker range too.
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Materials discovered by 9to5Google, and buried in the latest version of the Home app for Android, point towards a new feature called Downtime. Although the feature isn't yet functioning, its appearance (hidden from the view of regular users, for now) gives a good clue as to what Google has planned.
Specifically, the 'Family Tools' area of the Home app's settings page has been replaced by 'Digital Wellbeing'. Under this header, there are two features called Filters and Downtime.
Given how the new Digital Wellbeing feature looks set to replace Family Tools, we imagine Google will use the feature to help curb kids' use of Home devices. We can see Digital Wellbeing being used to limit when the Assistant will launch games and play music - in the evenings, for example, when parents want their children to stop interacting with technology as they wind down before bedtime.
This could also be a convenient way to prevent the Assistant from playing loud music when the family wants to settle down for the evening. We can see a situation where the Assistant politely declines a child's request to play music at 9pm on a Sunday, but is still receptive and will respond to other questions, like a request for tomorrow's weather forecast.
Because the Assistant can identify users by their voice, the system could decline requests from children but still respond to their parents at certain times of day.
Google, Apple and Facebook have all become more interested in how customers use their products and services this year. Apple will launch Screen Time, a system similar to Digital Wellbeing, with iOS 12 later this month to help make iPhone users aware of how long they spend on their device and using certain apps. Screen Time also gives options for limiting children's access to apps each day.
Meanwhile, Facebook has introduced a feature on Instagram to show when you start scrolling through posts you have already seen, in a bid to prevent users wasting time looking at old content. And of course, Google has Digital Wellbeing, which is coming to Android 9 Pie in October, and recently launched tools to make YouTube users aware of how long they spend on the site.