ScreenTime API on non-Family Sharing Devices

Hello, thank you for building a Screen Time API.

In my reading of of the API, it seems that all components rely on Family Controls, which require a parent to authorize on a child's device.

Will Screen Time API work in contexts where there are no children's devices? Can an individual authorize Family Controls on their own phone?

Here is a use case: Imagine a user who wants to restrict access to certain apps until they have worked out for 30 minutes a day. We would use Device Activity and Managed Settings to effectuate this app.

  • I was so excited to discover that there was a Screen Time API in iOS 15 - it was the feature I was most hoping for more than any other, chiefly to let me set limits on my own usage (e.g. block social media apps during work hours). Unfortunately, we are now learning that it is currently for developing parent-child monitoring experiences, and fails to tackle the issue of adult over-usage, which is just as valid a use case. In my mind, Apple should be offering tools like this: https://potential.app/ios-15-humane

    I absolutely love the idea of setting personal app limits like the example mentioned in the article, where you choose to only be able to access Twitter, after you have meditated for 10 minutes and worked out that day. These are the kind of features that a Screen Time API should be enabling.

  • Definitely. This requirement is the biggest disappointment of WWDC for me. I was very excited to build using this API, but it turns out that none of my ideas are possible.

Add a Comment

Accepted Answer

Requesting authorization via FamilyControls is a requirement to access most of the ManagedSettings API and the entirety of the DeviceActivity API. An app running on a device can only successfully request FamilyControls authorization when the currently signed in account is a child in a Family Sharing circle.

Answers

Requesting authorization via FamilyControls is a requirement to access most of the ManagedSettings API and the entirety of the DeviceActivity API. An app running on a device can only successfully request FamilyControls authorization when the currently signed in account is a child in a Family Sharing circle.

@KnolanNose

To summarize it, is that correct that Screen Time API can only be used for apps that deal with a child-parent relationship?

In other words, if people want to build an app that helps people manage distractions (ex. disable social media between 8 am - 6 PM), that is impossible?

If it is impossible, could this use-case be supported?

  • Thinking through the auth model of the API, my guess is it is quite a technical challenge to go from a Parent/Child model that leverages pre-existing iCloud trust pairs, to a unary model. The Auth token can theoretically come from anywhere, but Apple would need to support a mechanism for self-dealing the auth token, managing it, revoking it (and guarding against revoke), etc. This would take a strong internal advocate to make happen.

    My hope is Apple realizes that there is a very, very large use case for improved self-regulation on the phone. My company, Freedom, has millions of users, and multiple iOS engineers ready to take on a project with Screen Time API, so if Apple needs help thinking through this space we are happy to collaborate and share knowledge. As an engineer, however, I realize the challenge that Apple has to lift this API to the self-regulation case.

    Perhaps other individuals/companies who are interested in using the Screen Time API for self-regulation could leave comments or +1's here, just in case Apple happens to read this. There is a very, very large number of individuals to serve with better self-regulation tools, and we'd love to be able to take advantage of the API.

  • I 100% agree, self-regulation would be an incredibly impactful usage of the API and was what we initially believed this API would make possible. Adults want the ability to track their own usage passively and receive reminders/build optimal schedules for themselves. If privacy is a concern, the user of the app could opt-in specific app token ID's that they allow the API to monitor usage for. There are tons of people out there who would gladly allow an app to help them manage specific app usage and planning. It would be very similar to opting in for location services/camera/microphone/etc., but at a significantly lower level of privacy intrusion, and very helpful in promoting and assisting mental health initiatives. If there is any way this use case could be supported by ensuring privacy through opt-in, we'd be grateful!

  • I agree self-regulation is very important. Nowadays, smart phone addiction is getting more important problem not only for children, but many adults. Also people want to have healthy life for both physical and mental. If people can restrict usage of smart phone by one's self, their health condition will be better. I believe this use case make world much better.

Add a Comment

Also what if we want to allow a parent to give their own device to a child to use - this is relevent for younger child that often dont have their own device - but a parent wants to let them play some games for a short time - the rest of the api would allow a nice setup of just a few acessible apps.

Oh now I see why I didn’t have any luck with DeviceActivity framework until now. That’s sad, would be very cool and useful to have it work withou family stuff too. I can imagine many usecases. Hopefully they’ll change their mind.

Indeed it is disappointing that this is limited to parental controls. There are so many important use cases to address outside of the parent-child relationship.

Even without access to the details of the activity, having some activity or just screen-time information would allow for building helpful tools in a wide range of contexts.

  • I agree. While I understand there are architectural challenges, my hope is Apple will support the self-managed use case.

Add a Comment