Google’s New Experimental Apps Are so Weird You Won’t Want to Touch Your Phone

A phone shaped piece of paper, with a phone dialer printed on the front.
Special Projects

Google wants to help you moderate your phone usage. The company started with Digital Wellbeing, which is similar to Apple’s Screentime, but the focus continues to evolve. Its latest experimental apps just might keep you off your phone so that you can focus on the world. But they’re so weird you might uninstall them instead.

Put Your Phone in An Envelope

First up on the list is Envelope, an app released in partnership with Special Projects. Right now, it’s exclusive to the Pixel 3a, and that’s because of how the concept works. You’ll print one of two envelops and seal your phone inside.

On the outside of the envelope is either a printed dialer or camera controls. The back of the camera envelope features cutouts for your camera and flash—hence the limitation to a single phone.

The idea is that you can still use your phone for either phone calls or taking photos and videos, but everything else is “locked away.” If you can’t take another minute without Slack or Facebook, you break the envelope seal and unlock the app. It’ll let you know how long you’ve gone without your phone.

Bubble Wrap On Your Screen

Two phones with varying amounts of multi-sized bubbles filling the home pag.e
Google

Activity Bubble takes a simpler approach. It’s essentially a live wallpaper that adds a new bubble to the home page Every time you unlock your phone. The longer you use your phone, the larger the bubble grows. Use your phone enough, and it’ll start to look like bubble wrap on your screen. But, of course, pressing the bubbles won’t burst them. They’ll only grow larger until you lock the phone. Since it’s effectively a simple live wallpaper, it isn’t limited to just the Pixel 3a.

A Stopwatch Built to Increase Your Anxiety

Two phones with stopwatch timers counting up on the home screen.
Google

If bubbles aren’t enough to make you throw your phone at the wall, Google’s last entry, dubbed Screen Stopwatch, should do the trick. The idea is similar to the Activity Bubble; only instead of bubbles on your screen, you’ll see a stopwatch timer. Every time you unlock your phone, it starts counting up and doesn’t stop until you lock it.

It’s like a death clock, but for phone usage. And while it’s incredibly simple, we have a feeling that a counting timer thrust in your face will make you want to put the phone down. And maybe never return.


While Google’s efforts to help curb screen addiction are laudable, we’re not sure about how successful this attempt will be. Screentime apps are only effective if you keep them installed, actively use them, and do something with the results (namely, put your phone down more).

Envelope seems so annoying you won’t keep using it. Activity Bubble doesn’t feel like a strong enough effort to change behavior, and Screen Stopwatch feels like overkill.

But progress starts somewhere, and if you want to cut back the time you spend with your face in a phone, these apps are worth a shot.

Source: Google via Android Police

Josh Hendrickson Josh Hendrickson
Josh Hendrickson has worked in IT for nearly a decade, including four years spent repairing and servicing computers for Microsoft. He’s also a smarthome enthusiast who built his own smart mirror with just a frame, some electronics, a Raspberry Pi, and open-source code. Read Full Bio »

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