Google Pushing "Digital Wellbeing" on Android Manufacturers

Rising addiction to mobile gadgets and screens has become a growing concern among consumers in recent years, particularly parents. In response to increasing criticism, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) and Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOG) (NASDAQ: GOOGL) subsidiary Google last year both introduced controls -- Screen Time and Digital Wellbeing, respectively -- that allow users to monitor usage in order to better manage how much time is spent on smartphones. However, Android's long-standing fragmentation problem means that most Android users don't have access to those tools.

Google is starting to push Digital Wellbeing more aggressively.

Girl on her phone late at night

Image source: Getty Images.

Most Android users don't have Digital Wellbeing

Google is now requiring Android manufacturers to include Digital Wellbeing with new devices that access Google services, according to The Verge. Additionally, the search giant will also force manufacturers to adopt USB-C fast charging. The Digital Wellbeing requirement suggests that Google views the controls as an important competitive area. Apple just brought Screen Time to Macs with the latest version of MacOS.

Screen Time and Digital Wellbeing both allow users to set time limits for apps, receive detailed reports around how time is spent, and minimize distractions and notifications that suck people back into their phones.

Screen Time on a MacBook

Apple just brought Screen Time to the Mac. Image source: Apple.

Fragmentation has long plagued the Android ecosystem. Digital Wellbeing is included in Android 9 Pie and later, while Screen Time is part of iOS 12 and later. As of early May, just 10.4% of Android devices were using Android 9 Pie. In contrast, 88% of all iOS devices were using iOS 12 as of early August. Both statistics are from before the latest versions of each respective operating system (Android 10 and iOS 13) were released publicly.

The fast-charging requirement is similarly designed to preserve competitiveness, as all iPhones released since 2017 include support for USB-C fast charging. Google is also trying to discourage manufacturers from pursuing proprietary charging standards.

Investors want companies to help manage smartphone addiction

Tech companies have become increasingly aware of their responsibility to help manage smartphone addiction, which has been on the rise and carries broad societal and health implications. The American Psychological Association has found that constantly checking smartphones leads to higher stress, while parents also worry about how to manage their children's use of tech gadgets.

It's less clear how important tools like Screen Time and Digital Wellbeing are when consumers make purchasing decisions, but mental health experts have praised Apple and Google for taking a proactive approach.

The issue was important enough that activist investors brought up the topic at Apple's 2018 shareholder meeting. In a letter, Jana Partners and the California State Teachers' Retirement System (who collectively owned around $2 billion worth of Apple stock at the time) called on the Mac maker to address the growing problem, arguing that doing so would improve customer loyalty.

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