Smartphone addiction is a growing problem--let’s keep it out of the car.

June 11, 2018
Sam Diamond

A growing problem

This week, Apple announced new features for iOS 12, its next mobile software update. Among a new selection of emojis, grouped notifications and a neat new AR measuring app was a new tool that suggests an interesting rethink from the company.

Screen Time is a new app that gives iPhone users a weekly breakdown of how much time they’re spending on their phones. Users will be able to set usage on individual apps, so if they notice that they’re spending hours on Instagram and that it’s negatively impacting their mental health, for example, they’ll be able to limit the time they spend on the app.

The introduction of Screen Time suggests that Apple is taking smartphone addiction seriously. This should be welcomed and encouraged, and we should hope that more technology companies follow suit. Google has also introduced a similar tool for Android.

Smartphone addiction is a serious and growing problem: in a recent survey, Deloitte found that US smartphone users check their devices an average of 47 times each day. 80% of those surveyed admitted to checking their phones within an hour of getting up or going to sleep--behavior that can interfere with sleep patterns. Perhaps the most striking finding was that 47% of smartphone users have consciously tried to limit their smartphone use--but only 30% were successful in this.

In-car distraction

This problem is worrying enough without considering its implications for drivers - studies have found that smartphone addiction can have drastic effects on mental health. But given the problem of distracted driving, a subject that we’ve considered in great depth here at German Autolabs, smartphone addiction should be viewed as the crisis it is.

One way to stop smartphone addiction causing traffic accidents as a result of drivers picking up their phones behind the wheel is by giving them a safer means to access the apps they need. For example, voice control and safe gesture control gives smartphone-addicted drivers the means to access apps without putting themselves and others in danger by using their smartphone handset while driving.

However, this is only effective if the interfaces that allow drivers to access their smartphone services while driving limit what they can do, encourage sensible use, and don’t provide elaborate applications beyond what drivers actually need.

Infotainment issues

But in the frantic race to offer market-leading infotainment systems that allow drivers to do what their smartphones allow them to while they drive, manufacturers have provided services that are both unnecessary and distracting.

GM, for example, is planning integration for a restaurant reservation app in its infotainment systems, and has launched an SDK so that external developers can integrate their apps with its infotainment systems. This suggests a widening of available applications - not a sensible limiting to what drivers actually require.

Another company that has arguably gone too far with its infotainment systems is Tesla. The huge screen might be great for navigation, but the system also supports the integration of RSS feeds, which can be used to read news while driving, and also Twitter. Using social media and reading while driving not only encourages and enables smartphone addiction, but also does this in the worst environment possible - the driving seat.

What drivers need

In order to limit smartphone addiction and ensure it doesn’t interfere with drivers’ ability to concentrate on the road, smartphone use should not only happen only through a safe control interface, such as voice, but should also be limited to the primary applications.

So what are the things drivers really need from their smartphones?

  • Calls
  • Navigation
  • Music
  • Messaging

Anything else - social media, reading news - should be restricted. This helps combat smartphone addiction and keeps drivers safer on the road.

How does Chris fit in?

For Chris, our digital co-driver, we’ve limited the applications to the four listed above, and also limited the control of these applications to voice and gesture. Chris aims to tackle distracted driving and limit smartphone addiction while giving you the services you really need.

Key takeaways

  • Smartphone addiction is an acute and growing issue 
  • This problem is even more serious in an in-car environment
  • Auto companies are looking to make their cars more connected, but some have been guilty of installing huge screens and launching support for unnecessary applications
  • The solution is limiting applications, minimizing touch screen installation and considering interaction mediums such as voice control 
Sam Diamond
Sam Diamond
Story and Social

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