OnePlus built an app to limit your phone use – here’s why

The Zen Mode on the OnePlus 7 and OnePlus 7 Pro is another attempt by a major manufacturer to improve our digital wellbeing.

The mode, which is enabled manually, limits the functionality of your phone for 20 minutes, meaning all you can do is make emergency calls, receive any call or use the camera.

Now the company is explaining its thinking behind the app, which aims to limit how much attention our phones demand. In a blog post on Wednesday, the company said research found users felt unable to put their phones down, because of distracting notifications from messages and social media apps.

Staffer Maggie Ouyang wrote: “We realised that the notifications drawing you in aren’t the only problem. Many apps are designed to reward you for interacting with them, whether it be through something as simple as an animation welcoming you back or a virtual reward or counter – especially in games, which rewards you for coming back.”

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In terms of implementing the feature OnePlus considered a layer that sat atop the operating system, but decided against the idea in favour of a mobile application with a friendly and supportive feel. The company also went into detail on why it chose the 20-minute time out rather than seeking to encourage users to spend longer away from their handsets.

The blog post reads: “We can all agree that setting Zen Mode to be 60 minutes would prevent all but the most hardcore from even trying it, and we know that a lot can happen in one hour, so you may need your device. Even 45 minutes is a long time – while that could be perfect for students in a class, it may not be ideal for others.”

Ouyang says that 20 minutes is a sweet spot because it encourages people to give Zen Mode a shot, and is short enough to ensure users see it through without being tempted to override the app. The firm said it gamified the app somewhat in order to keep it challenging, and promised new features will be coming in future.

She concluded: “Zen Mode is only the start of our latest work with mindfulness. We’re already working on some updates based on your feedback, so that we can give you more flexibility and control. We’ll continue to update it, so please keep sharing your thoughts – we’ll always look at how we can improve and make your life better.​”

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