Digital Wellness on Android: a second look

I got a chance to look at Google’s digital wellness feature on a developer’s version of Android P and it was interesting but also a bit disappointing.

Main wellness screen, showing daily usage.
Source: Google

As I said in my previous post last week, just having access to this data is helpful and enlightening. I opened up the dashboard at around 5:00pm and asked the phone’s owner, someone who spend most of the day up until that time in front of a computer, how much time he had spent on the phone that day. He answered that he estimated it at about and hour and a half. The real number was closer to three hours. The same thing happened in notifications where he estimated about 150 and the real number was 245. So clearly he doesn’t think that he’s spending a lot of time on the phone and that notifications aren’t that numerous but that isn’t the case.

How to help users even more:

  1. Notification drill down: the number of notifications per day is high, higher than many users expect. It would be great to have a way to know the breakdown per app and what percent of those notifications were acted on and what were swiped away. Android has many ways for users to configure their notifications per app and having the notification breakdown would allow users to better adjust their notification settings.
  2. Track usage across time: right now the time spent is displayed daily and only kept for the last week. Tracking usage for a longer for a longer period of time and averaging the data across weekends, work days, and holidays, would help users gain a better understanding of their usage patterns. Today users can see how the time spent in an app is spread across a specific day only after clicking on the app name in the “time spent per app” section. It could help to see that aggregated for all apps.
  3. Data presentation: currently the time spent is displayed in a pie chart, with the total time centered in the middle.  The pie slices are per apps, with “other” taking up at least 20% slice. Visually, it’s challenging for the user to get a quick understanding of what happened that day and, perhaps more importantly, averaged across longer periods of time. The pie chart format itself is a circle, displayed the same size each day, which does little to convey the total amount of time. As to the time slices per app, they’re viewed as a percentage of total time, which in itself isn’t enough to understand usage across days.

    Sample app usage throughout the day.
    Source: Google

    In Google’s sample dashboard the total time is shown as 3:22 but it’s not easy to tell how much time was spent in the different apps, and even if time spent in YouTube was more or less than the time spent in Facebook. Perhaps a better idea is a horizontal bar chart, comparing today’s time spent both in total and in all apps to an average time for that metric, and adding bars for each app used that day. Each bar could also be marked with the user’s preset time limit for that app, with the bar being red for time spent in the app after that limit was reached. Another option is to present a vertical bar chart split by hours, where the time spent in different apps for that hour would be marked on each bar. Each of these methods have the potential to help users understand their usage better than the current pie chart.

  4. Easier access: currently the wellness dashboard is accessed through a menu item settings. A shortcut would be helpful, as would a few widgets showing, say, a notification count for that day, or what apps are nearing their time limit.

These suggestions are based on what is already being tracked for wellness, without incorporating internal app data. That data could prove to be even more helpful to users. Just using the YouTube example, looking at what time of day an app is used and for how long can be insightful. Also, as I said in my last post, tracking usage is only the first step, the next is to give users tools within apps to better spend their time and not get lost in endless scrolling down a newsfeed, looking for that special status update, and knowing just when they’re caught up with whatever is meaningful to them.

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