This year, Google is doing something different with Android. Instead of showing you all the ways you can use its phone operating system to do more, it’s creating features to help you use it less. Android P, due out later this year, will have a new dashboard that tells you how often, when, and for how long you are using every app on your phone. It will also allow you to set limits on yourself. You could give yourself a half-hour of Instagram per day, for example. Once your 30 minutes is up, the icon will go from its usual eye-catching gradient to a dull grayscale.
The feature is one of several that Google is combining into a theme it calls “Digital Well Being.” Presumably, it didn’t want to borrow “Time well spent,” the buzzy catchphrase popularized by ex-Google “design ethicist” Tristan Harris and adopted (or better: co-opted) by Mark Zuckerberg. Android P also includes a new core interface that uses iPhone-like navigation gestures and smarter ways to access functions that are usually buried away inside apps. It’s the biggest change to how users get around on their phones that we’ve seen in a long time.
It’s also available as a public beta starting right away on 11 different phones. That’s intriguing because Google is actually making progress on getting manufacturers to update their phones in a timely manner. Seriously, there’s a lot to do here. Last year, Android Oreo was more about internal changes than user-facing features. This year, Android P (and no, Google isn’t saying what the “P” stands for yet) is full of visual changes and new features. In terms of how it actually feels to use an Android device day-to-day, it could be the biggest update in years.