How to use Screen Time in iOS 12 to track and control app usage

Screen Time is a new feature in iOS 12 which allow users to track their device usage, set downtime to avoid distractions, configure app usage limits and manage parental controls on their devices. The purpose behind Screen Time is to help users understand how they use their devices, broken down by time spent on different apps and websites. The feature will be available to all compatible iPhone, iPad and iPod touch devices this fall. Here is our in-depth look at how it works and how you can use it.

How to use Screen Time in iOS 12

Screen Time is available as a new option under Settings in iOS 12. Tapping on the option will open the below interface which lists your device usage time, along with a breakdown of the app categories that keep you occupied. An average will also be shown which uses your past data to tell you whether your usage is above or below your usual usage. Since this is historical data, you might not see it right away when you upgrade to iOS 12 for the first time so wait for a day for this to start showing useful data. If you have multiple devices connected to your Apple ID, all using iOS 12, they will also be listed on this screen.

Screen Time App iOS 12

Below the statistics, there are 4 options: Downtime, App Limits, Always Allowed and Content & Privacy Restrictions. At the bottom, the is an option to set a passcode for Screen Time, which is different than your iOS passcode. The next option ‘Share Across Devices’ lets you enable/disable usage data sharing across different devices. The last option on this screen lets you turn off Screen Time.

Daily and weekly activity reports in Screen Time

Once you have accumulated enough usage data in iOS 12, you should start seeing detailed reports on how you use your phone. When you tap on your device name, you will be taken to a details screen. An hourly graph will show you how you much time you spent on each app category throughout the day. A ‘most used’ list underneath will show different apps and websites along with the time you spent using them. If you tap on ‘show categories’, the list will switch to just app & website categories. You can tap on any of the items under ‘most used’ to see details of your daily average time on the specific category, app or website. iOS 12 is good at even classifying some websites into different categories, however, it doesn’t always works and most of your websites end up under the ‘Other’ category.

Today statistics Screen Time - iOS 12

You can tap and hold on any of the graph bars to see the usage details for that hour.

Below Most Used you will find Pickups and Notifications. Pickups is the number of time that you pick up your device throughout the day. This is also laid out on an hourly graph, accompanied by the total picks ups and most picks up for the day. You are more likely to be surprised by this number. Last on this screen are notifications. This list shows the number of notifications you receive from each app, throughout the day. Tapping on any app in this list will take you to its notification setting for adjustments.

The same statistics and reporting are also available for the last 7 days. Simply tap on the tab at the top that says ‘Last 7 Days’ to view.

Last 7 Days Screen Time iOS 12

Screen Time also has a useful notification center widget. You also receive a weekly notification which, upon 3D touch, shows a quick report of your weekly usage. As you can see, my daily average iPhone usage needs a lot of work. Apollo, the amazing third-party Reddit app, is just too damn addictive!

Screen Time widgets and report in iOS 12

Setting Downtime, App Limits and Parental Controls in Screen Time

Screen Time is more than just a single feature. It is a combination of different tools and options to manage your device usage. Some of these features help you disable distractions, while others let you set limits on how much time you can spend on apps.

Downtime lets you schedule a time for your devices, during which only selected apps and phone calls will be able to alert you. You can set a start and end time for this feature. In ideal situations, it should help you sleep better by not notifying you when somebody shares a funny meme at 3 am.

Downtime Screen Time iOS 12

App Limits can help in reducing app usage by setting times on different apps and categories. For example, you can set a restriction that Fortnite can be played on your iPad only for 1 hour per day and make your Fortnite-addicted-kid go crazy. Apple has been nice enough to allow the user to request an extension right from the App Limit reminder notification, which is nice. These limits can also be used for self-discipline so you do not waste too much time on specific apps.

App Limits Screen Time iOS 12

Always Allowed is where you mark apps as VIP so that they always notify you even if you have enabled downtime. Apart from Phone, all apps can be removed from this list.

Always Allowed Screen Time iOS 12

The last option in Screen Time is Content & Privacy Restrictions. This is basically the same as the Restrictions option previously located under Settings > General. You can restrict iTunes and App Store Purchases, including in-app purchases, change allowed apps, enforce content restrictions and change privacy settings for built-in apps from here. These options are particularly useful when you to setup a device for a kid.

Content & Privacy Restrictions iOS 12Screen Time works with iCloud Family Sharing so you can also view activity reports for child accounts in your family. The app lets you remotely monitor activity and set app limits on child devices.

Screen Time is a great addition to iOS 12 and should help users balance their time between devices and other more important things in life. It would have been great if Apple had added this feature to macOS Mojave too, however that is not the case. Hopefully, Apple will add this feature to the next macOS release. Fingers crossed.