Apple unveils controls to help you use your iPhone less

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Apple introduced new controls for limiting how much time customers spend on their devices as the company tackles criticism that its devices are becoming increasingly addictive and distracting. | AP file photo

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Apple introduced new controls for limiting how much time customers spend on their devices as the company tackles criticism that its devices are becoming increasingly addictive and distracting.

The controls allow users to set “Do Not Disturb” modes on their phones, such as at night or during trips to the playground with their kids. During that time, app notifications will be blocked from showing up on the home screen. Apple also will give users reports on how much time they spend on apps and what gets them to check them constantly. They can set time limits on specific apps. Parents can also set controls for their kids.

Some of the controls are similar to those unveiled by Google last month, when it revealed plans to have phones go into “shush” mode when placed face down on a table and have the screen show only greyscale colors late at night.

The new Apple features are among the software updates previewed Monday at the company’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, California. These and other features won’t reach users for a few months; rather, they were being shown to give software developers a chance to build new apps to make iPhones and other Apple devices more useful. The next iPhone software, iOS 12, is expected in September following the announcements on new iPhones, for instance.

Other highlights:

AUGMENTED REALITY GETS AUGMENTED

Apple rolled out new support for augmented reality applications as it unveiled a new format for digital objects that appear to live in the real world.

The update comes as Apple tries to extend AR experiences to a broader population, rather than just hard-core, tech-savvy users. The company started that effort last year when it built AR tools into most iPhones and iPads; by contrast, Google had limited that to niche Android phone models.

Digital objects created with the new format, called USDZ, will work in Apple’s Safari browser, Messages and Mail apps, meaning AR isn’t limited to stand-alone apps that people choose to download separately. The format will also get support in Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite of apps for professional photographers, videographers and designers. What remains to be seen is whether there is enough of a compelling reason for someone to use AR, even if it’s built-in to everyday apps.

Apple also unveiled an app called “Measure” that measures boxes and other objects in the real world by pointing the camera at them. Apple is also offering tools to give multiple users a different view of the same digital objects viewed from different angles.

SIRI SHORTCUTS

Apple wants its digital assistant Siri to do more. Third-party apps will now be able to let users invoke Siri for commonly used tasks, much the way competing assistants from Google and Amazon long have. Before, Apple had limited third-party access to a handful of categories, such as messaging, while excluding competitors to Apple’s Music service, for instance.

The software update will also let people group similar tasks together into shortcuts that can be accessed by simple phrases like “heading home.” Saying the phrase can be set to open Apple Maps to find the best route home and launching a radio app.

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