YouTube’s Efforts To End Your Smartphone Obsession Are Now Rolling Out

Farai Mudzingwa Avatar

If YouTube (as an entity) had a choice between a user watching videos on their platform for 2 hours each day vs that same user watching videos on the platform for fewer hours, YouTube would probably pick the former and scowl at the latter. I think this goes a long way in explaining why some of the features that come with “digital wellbeing” seem so redundant.

Digital Wellbeing is a system-wide feature coming to newer Android phones and it allows users to monitor their smartphone usage habits. YouTube is also getting it’s set of digital wellbeing features users will be able to start monitoring statistics such as:

  • Time watched
  • Set reminders to take breaks
  • Set limits on how much time you can watch
  • Reduce notifications from channels you’ve subscribed to
  • Entirely turn of notifications during certain periods

Right now this update is still in beta so it’s available to a select few devices that are running Android 9 Pie Android 8 and above.  Don’t bother checking on desktop either, there’s nothing yet.

Time limits

If you’re absolutely obsessed with YouTube and unfortunately you just can’t stop popping into the application and consuming video, you’ll be interested in these time limits that digital wellbeing allows you to set.

What you’ll discover very quickly however is that these time limits are not as effective as one would expect. In the event that you have set a time limit of 35 minutes per day, once you exceed the limit all you get is a reminder that you have exceed the limit. You are not locked out until the next day or even for a few hours. You can just dismiss the notification and continue watching.

Of course, this reminder is necessary and it makes you conscious of the fact that you’ve watched ‘enough’ videos and for some it may work. For most ,however, I see the default response being “I’ve watched enough video for today… Well, there’s no harm in finishing this one since I had already started watching”, and users will keep watching.

Give the user the control

I’m not saying these reminders are useless but I think Google would have served people better if in the settings they allowed users to set limits according to levels. A low-level limit would just remind you that you’ve watched too much video content for the day and users could then decide what to do next. A medium-level limit would tell you that you’ve watched enough video and lock you out for a few hours and allow you to focus on other things. A high-level limit would completely lock you out until the next day.

Now, even this approach has its pros and cons as users can simply change the settings, but I think giving users these options would be welcome and would certainly do no harm to the user. YouTube and all the other companies looking at digital wellbeing probably won’t do this ,however, as it will potentially affect their bottomline.

A rock and a hard place

At the end of the day, the more videos people consume on platforms such as YouTube, the more money these entities rake in. This makes it hard for these firms (Facebook is doing it too) to aggressively chase user wellbeing, when that wellbeing = less revenue.

At the end of the day Apple and Google have bowed to pressure, as media coverage of smartphone obsession has been steadily rising over the past few years. Doing absolutely nothing would be risky and so they have resorted to doing the bare minimum.

It will be interesting to see the impact these wellbeing features have. Maybe I am entirely wrong and just having the usage stats of how much time you are spending on your device will scare the crap out of you and force you to change those habits. It’s a good first step but I’m largely of the feeling that these wellbeing features won’t actually end up having the desired effect.

Update: We had reported that the digital wellbeing features are available to Android 9 users but apparently users on Android 8 are also getting the features.


  1. lol

    Not entirely true. I have this feature on android 8 on a Huawei P10 Lite

    1. Farai Mudzingwa

      Thanks for this!

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