Apple's Screen Time aims to address growing concerns around increasing device usage, smartphone addiction and social media impacting on mental health. The idea is to help you regain control and not be constantly lost in your phone.

iOS 13.3 includes a few new Screen Time features. You can set limits for certain contacts - useful if you're talking to one person too much - or your kids are. Parents can set a limit of, say, 30 minutes a day for contacts or you can only allow calls to close family members overnight, that kind of thing. And as well a restricting phone calls, you can also set limits for Messages and Face Time. 

Here's everything you need to know about Apple Screen Time.

What is Apple Screen Time?

Screen Time is a core part of iOS and as such, it will work will all apps without developers or individual apps having to make any changes to benefit from it.

Found in the Settings app alongside Notifications and Do Not Disturb, the feature monitors the way you use your device, telling you everything from how long you've spent on certain app categories to specific apps. It will even tell you how many times you've picked up your iPhone in a given hour.

Once the data is collected you can then view it in a handy chart to see how much you really use your phone or tablet.

At the end of the week, you'll get a report sent to you via a notification, so you can see exactly what you've been doing and just how much time you wasted in certain apps.


Reporting on app categories

Apple is able to break down the apps using the categories from the App Store so you can see whether you play a lot of games, or spend time on social media, or if you're a utilities person.

What's great here is that because that data is picked up from the App Store, and that's all reviewed by a human, you shouldn't find that a game is hiding in a work category.

What can you do with all this data?

The idea is that by understanding how you're interacting with your phone you can then take much greater control, either by taking drastic action like removing the app completely, or by limiting how you use it by setting App Limits within iOS. The problem, of course, is that you've got to decide to make that change.

You can choose to ignore the findings or bypass them at any time.

What are App Limits?

If you're worried about app addiction, you can set yourself daily or weekly limits to curb your usage. With iOS, you'll be able to set a specific amount of time in an app.

When that time limit is about to expire, you'll get a notification telling you you've only got five minutes left. When your time is up, you can choose to override it and carry on using it, but the nudge is supposed to make you realise what is happening, so you can curb your addiction.

It's very similar to how the Do Not Disturb while driving feature works. You can easily choose to dismiss it, but it does make you think about what you are doing.


Blocking specific apps at specific times with Downtime

Monitoring and reporting is one thing, but you might want to stop yourself from using a specific app at a specific time. This is where a feature called Downtime comes into play. The feature, again found in the Settings app, gives you the ability to schedule a block of time whereby only apps that you choose will work.

While the feature is likely to be used by parents to control the apps available to their children in the run-up to bedtime, for example, we could easily see it working to stop you from using your work email after hours or social media during work.

You'll also be able to whitelist certain apps so you can still use the phone or messaging features for example.

Screen Time will track how many times you pick up your device

It's not just about monitoring your app usage, but also about how much time you spend interacting with a device. Using a number of signals, Apple will also measure how many times you pick up your phone in a given hour. There is a level of engagement for it to register, but it's about tracking how many times you pick it up.

In our time using Screen Time, it's frightening how many times we pick up the phone, and that number is likely to shock you - for the first couple of days at least. 

Screen Time works across all your devices via iCloud

Rather than be restricted to just a single device, the Screen Time feature is based on your iCloud account, which means a number of things. Not only will you be able to see how you use apps across multiple devices, but also won't be able to cheat the system by using your iPad over your iPhone when you've run out of time on one device.

You can't have multiple users on a single device

While parental controls go a long way to delivering more granular controls, Apple still isn't offering multiple user support on a single device like you can have on macOS, Amazon Fire or (some) Android devices.

Screen Time only works via iCloud account usage on devices. If you have a family iPad, the system will record all app usage regardless of who uses it meaning the system can be easily bypassed. The answer still appears to be that if you want to track what your kids are doing, they'll all need their own iOS devices.

Screen Time lets parents check their kids Activity Reports

While you might want to use Screen Time to control your own use of the phone, one of the key areas that it will be used is for parents to monitor and control the apps their children are using.

Parents can access their child's Activity Report right from their own iOS devices to understand where their child spends their time and can manage and set App Limits for them. The days of "I was just checking what homework I've got" are numbered.

If they're spending hours on WhatsApp you'll be able to see, and yes, they are.  

Screen Time lets parents set App Limits for kids' devices

You'll be able to schedule a block of time to limit when your child can use their iOS device, such as bedtime, and use Downtime so they don't get bombarded with notifications.

Screen Time settings are all managed remotely via the parent's device, so your kids won't be able to bypass the features, or turn them off. 

Do Not Disturb bedtime mode

There's also a Do Not Disturb bedtime mode that will not only dim the display but also hide all notifications on the lock screen until prompted in the morning.

There's also an option in Control Centre where it can be set to automatically end based on a specified time or location.

Notification controls to stop you being bothered

Siri can intelligently make suggestions for notifications based on a number of factors including things like your location. For example, it will suggest putting your phone in to Do Not Disturb mode if it thinks you're at the cinema.

It will also group notifications on the Lock Screen so you aren't instantly drowned out first thing in the morning or after a long flight. For those who want even more control you'll be able to have notifications delivered directly to the Notification Centre bypassing the Lock Screen altogether.