Night time filtering apps: simple yet essential

It is a well known fact that insomnia sufferers shouldn’t reach for their phone at night. In fact, medical research indicates that for a  good night’s sleep, it’s better not to watch TV or look at a smartphone in the hours before bedtime. It turns out that  short wavelengths of light in the blue part of the spectrum are the most active in suppressing melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone. So, what’s an insomniac to do? Banish the smartphone? No, find an app to solve the problem.

Twilight's red overlay: essential to a good night's sleep

Twilight’s main screen with its red overlay: essential to a good night’s sleep

A few months ago I downloaded and installed Twilight (on Android only, it seems, but more on that later) which is supposed to cut down the blue light and redden the screen according to times chosen by the user. It can either be automatic, with a gradual reddening of the screen starting at sunset and gradual de-reddening towards sunrise, based on the user’s location and current date; custom times, which is like the automatic mode but with user-set times; alarm-driven times and always on. Users can also set the color temperature, intensity and screen dim percentage, which adds additional, appreciated flexibility. The main screen of the app is all about simplicity – it doesn’t require much effort to start using it.

It surprised me to learn, though, that when I tried recommending Twilight to an iPhone owner, that it’s not available in the app store and neither is an equivalent app. Apple pulled f.lux last year because it violated Apple’s terms.  Explains Techcrunch: “automatically adjusting your iOS device’s screen temperature requires the app to constantly run in the background, as well as use private APIs…both of which are against App Store rules.” Right now f.lux is only available for jailbroken iPhones.

Now, where this gets interesting is that today Apple announced that it would introduce a feature called Night Shift in iOS 9.3, which is currently in beta. It makes sense that Apple make this a part of the iOS because it does have to run all the time but it’s surprising that it’s only being released now, where other dimming apps have been around for years. What’s also interesting that while schedule setting is similar to Twilight, it seems that the screen filter will be yellow and the overall brightness will stay the same.

One of the features of Twilight I really like is the ability to set the brightness to be below the minimum setting allowed by Android minimum, which is too bright for me in the middle of the night. I also appreciate the intensity bar because sometimes my eyes take a longer time to adjust to the maximum. It’s these two really simple settings that make Twilight indispensible for me. I wonder why Apple chose not to include them in its Night Shift mode.

Finally, I understand why iPhone owners would jailbreak their phone to get this functionality. I had a momentary panic attack when Twilight wouldn’t work after I installed Marshmallow. Luckily, updating the app quickly solved the problem but I realized that this is one of those simple apps that I probably couldn’t live without. Well done, Twilight!

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