Updated Apple system takes on smartphone addiction

Updated Apple system takes on smartphone addiction
PHOTO: AFP

Apple's polished iPhone line-up comes with tools to help users dial back their smartphone obsessions, amid growing concerns over "addiction" and harmful effects on children.

An iOS 12 mobile operating system that will power new iPhones unveiled on Wednesday, and be pushed out as an update to prior models, has new features to reduce how much they distract people from the real world.

Apple senior vice president of software engineering Craig Federighi said of iOS 12 at a developers conference earlier this year the new system offers "detailed information and tools" to help users and parents keep tabs on device use.

A new "Screen Time" tool generates activity reports showing how often people pick up their iPhones or iPads, how long they spend in apps or at websites, and numbers of notifications received.

Users will be able to set limits on time spent in apps. Parents will be able to get activity reports from their children's iPhones or iPads, and impose time limits on apps from games and news to social media and messaging.

First look at Apple iPhone Xr, Xs, Xs Max

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    The new iPhone Xs, Xs Max and Xr all feature full-screen design without the home button that has been a feature since the first iPhone launched 11 years ago.

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    Instead, all the new iPhones will use only face recognition technology, or Face ID, for user authentication.

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    It is a bold move by Apple, considering many iPhone users are still very used to the touch button, or Touch ID’s fingerprint authentication.

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    The new iPhone Xs is the direct successor to last year’s iPhone X, sporting the same 5.8-inch Oled screen but with updated and faster A12 Bionic processor,

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    better water resistance, all-new image sensor of rear dual-camera system, improved TrueDepth camera system for advanced Face ID among the improvements.

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    Catering to users who want bigger screens, Apple also launched the iPhone Xs Max with the similar specifications as the iPhone Xs, but with a bigger 6.5-inch Oled screen.

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    Both iPhone Xs and Xs Max will be available in silver, black and a new colour option - gold.

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    However, Apple has not forgotten the budget market with the iPhone Xr.

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    It features the same design and processor as the iPhone Xs and iPhone Xs Max, but comes with a cheaper 6.1-inch LCD screen that has less contrast and dynamic range as well as less power efficient compared to Oled screens.

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    The cheaper iPhone Xr only has a single rear camera, unlike the rear dual-camera system of iPhone XS and XS Max.

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    However, it comes in more colours including red, blue, yellow, black and white.

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    Apple also introduced a fourth generation of the Apple Watch with a major redesign -- and a series of features designed to improve its performance as a medical and health device.

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    The smartwatches are able to detect hard falls, and an electrical heart rate sensor can take an electrocardiogram.

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    Apple stressed its devotion to data privacy, saying all health information gathered is encrypted on the smartwatch to be shared only as users see fit.

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    The new Apple Watch Series 4

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The operating system will also allow people to designate "down time" when iPhones or iPads can't be used -- perhaps a child's bedtime or a grown-up's meditation hour.

Activist investor Jana Partners and the California State Teachers' Retirement System (CalSTRS), which both have stakes in Apple, early this year called on the company to give parents more tools to ensure children are using its devices in ways that aren't hurting them.

The investors reasoned that doing so would pose no threat to Apple, because the company makes the bulk of its money selling devices, not from how much people use them.

Apple has been working to ramp up revenue from services and digital content such as music and movies, but most of the cash it takes in comes from iPhone sales.

The letter cited a growing body of evidence that excessive smartphone use may be having negative consequences on young people.

A study of teachers found the vast majority felt smartphones were a growing distraction at schools, eroding the ability of students to focus in class and a seeming cause of social and emotional difficulties.

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