Minding the Borderlands

Mark Koester (@markwkoester) on the art of travel and technology

Moment: Automatic Track and Know Your iPhone Usage

How addict am I to my phone? How do I check it? How often am I on it? These are some of the questions an iPhone tracking app called “Moment” is helping to answer.

If you think back to the “old days” of pre-iPhone and pre-Android days, times were different. Men were men. Women were women. And phones were phones. The big player was Nokia. Back then we used our phones to make calls and send text messages. And, if we were lucky, there was some simple program or game like a calculator and slither.

These days are gone. Today we carry around little computers connected to the internet. Smart phones broke the barrier between work and everywhere else and they made it possible to be entertained, distracted or connected socially anywhere and anytime. And we do. Heads and necks aching from so much hunching over, eyes blood shot from all day usage.

We spend a lot of time on our phones. Ironically we don’t even realize how much time we spend on our phones. According to a piece in the Huffington Post called “You Probably Use Your Smartphone Way More Than You Think,” “New research conducted by British psychologists shows that young adults use their smartphones roughly twice as much as they estimate that they do.” So while you think you are only spending a few minutes here and there, the time adds up.

The study goes on to cite some startling numbers. The researchers discovered that young adults spent on average five hours per day using their phone or “roughly one-third of their total waking hours.”

So, what can we do to better know how we spend our time on our phones?

If you are in an Android phone, you are in luck. You can install the background tracker RescueTime or BreakFree to record and track your usage. RescueTime in particular is the same tool I recommend for tracking your computer time. It’s also one of my favorite overall self-tracking methods.

If you are on iPhone, it’s a bit more of a challenge. Fortunately recent upgrades in iOS 9 and iOS 10 have exposed battery usage time so you can manually check your stats. We looked at in “How to Get Your iPhone Usage Data” and found ways to calculate your app usage in a day or over a week.

This manual solution isn’t ideal. Fortunately, there are a few automatic apps to help you track and understand your iPhone time.

The best of the bunch is Moments. Using clever GPS location tracking and parsed battery usage stats, Moments helps you realize how much time you spend on your phone and where that time is going.

In this post, we are going to look at how to track your iPhone time with Moments and some of the numbers we get back. Ultimately they can help you understand your mobile phone time and, if you want, make behavioral changes.

Why Track Your Phone Time?

5 hours per day. 35 hours per week. One thousand, eight hundred and twenty-five minutes per year.

That’s the number researchers found that the average young adult was spending on their phone. You might be more or less but likely you don’t even know.

By my own measurements I’m spending at least 20-25 hours per week on my phone. I’m likely an exception in that I classify a bit over 50% of my phone time as productive or very productive usage. This positive time includes exercise apps and reading articles. I also include all my life tracking apps as “productive,” which may or may not be that productive, if you think about it. That said, my iPad throws in another 8 hours of game time and maybe 5-10 hours of music listening and movie and TV watching per week.

All told I’m not far from that 5 hours per day on my phone or pad. Excluding sleep and computer time, that’s the biggest allotment of time I spend on anything.

I knew I was spending quite a lot of time on my phone, but I had no idea on how much or on what apps in particular. It’s safe to say I, like most people, am addicted to my phone.

There a lot of reasons to track your phone time, but like much of self-tracking, the first reason is likely curiosity. You want to get a number.

Beyond that, some people just like tracking (myself included). But actually, these data points we collect, track and compare can guide us to learn more about our self and create positive change.

Personally I’m deeply interested in productivity and living to the fullest of our potential. Certain productivity tools, organizational processes and habits have led to amazing changes in my life. I’m happier, healthier and smarter. And self-tracking was part of this transformation.

Ultimately once you get a baseline number of anything from how many steps you take a day to how much sleep you get, you can start to make and measure life changes.

I think considering how much time we spend on them, knowing your phone is critical to making conscious choices on how you want to live.

How Moment Tracks Your Phone Usage: GPS and Parsed Screenshots

Moment is an app that has been around a few years, and there are a few similar apps in the Apple App Store. Through a clever usage of GPS and location logging, these devices are able to log your location when you open and close your phone. This can then be used to record how many times you pick up your phone and for how long. To quote their tagline, “Moment is an iOS app that automatically tracks how much you use your iPhone and iPad each day.”

Using this tracking, Moment is then able to aggregate those data points to display how much time you spend overall on your phone:

In view of how it tracks, Moment also creates maps of where you are when you use your phone. The added bonus (if that’s your thing) is you can track where you were on your phone. While a app like Moves is a better solution for location tracking, this is a nice bonus.

With Apple’s upgrades in iOS 9 and 10, more data on your phone usage was exposed. As we saw in “How to Get Your iPhone Usage Data,” there is a manual way to look at how much time you spend on your phone. By digging into your phone settings, you’ll find the “Battery” section which reveals great statistics on your usage by app and by time.

Moment uses these same stats to add app usage numbers to its general phone usage tracking. It works like this: Each day or week, according to your settings, Moment will send you a notification to record your battery usage. You simply take a couple of screenshots, and from that, Moment then parses the image and generates your per day app usage numbers.

Beyond these statistics, Moment’s pro features are all about helping you decrease your phone usage time. There is an embedded course or “bootcamp” for you to work on decreasing your usage and thinking more about why you use your phone.

Moment Pro provides notifications when you are above your goals so you gain more awareness of your time. To quote, “If you’re using your phone too much, you can set daily limits on yourself and be notified when you go over. You can even force yourself off your device when you’re over your limit.”

Beyond the individual user, there is Moment Family that is for parents to help get more screen-free time with their families

Overall, Moment is a pretty great app for any self-tracker to try. If you are curious about your phone time and aren’t sure how much you use it (likely bigger than you estimate!), it’s worth giving it a look.

Problems and Concerns: Are These Number Right?

While overall I think Moment is a great approach to tracking your iPhone usage, it’s not an ideal approach. Unlike RescueTime on your computer or on your Android device, where you are tracking computing processes, Moment’s tracking solution is a bit of a “hack.” It leverages a of log your gps location and its timestamp to then interpret your usage time for each pickup.

After a couple weeks using Moment, my main concern is that I don’t feel like the numbers add up. Specifically, the Apple Battery Usage stats don’t correlate to the usage number I get from Moments.

For example, I compared a week of manual tracking from Apple’s stats and Moment’s tracking. Moment reported I spent 45+ hours on my phone while Apple’s numbers were under 26 hours. This is a nearly 20 hour difference.

According to Moment’s FAQ, there are a couple reasons why. First, if you take your battery screenshot at different hours, that might cause discrepancies.

Second, battery usage statistics from Apple are only collected while you are using your battery. So, if you are using your phone while its charging your phone, then Apple won’t be collecting battery usage stats. This is a big one for me since I often use my phone while it’s charging.

Third, as the developer admits, “the app usage tracking is imperfect, but it’s the best solution we’ve got.”

It’s safe to assume that Apple’s statistics and measurement methods (while on battery) are better. It’s just the nature of the method. Moment has a good workaround but its accuracy will never be perfect. Worth considering though is if my usage is higher than I think due to how often I use it while charging.

Overall, unless you are trying to get exact numbers, the specifics of the numbers don’t matter so much as having a point of comparison.

Like a scale you use daily to measure your weight, it may or may not be 100% accurate on your weight, but assuming you use the same one daily, it’s perfect for gauging your weight changes.

In the same way, Moment can serve as a good tool for comparing your usage. If you use Moments continually over a period of several weeks as you work on decreasing phone usage, it can provide accurate data and feedback on that change.

Conclusion: Best Time Usage

Tracking your iPhone usage time can make you aware of how much of your life is going into your device. Unlike begone era pre-smart phone and even before that, we now spend a lot of our work, free and spare time on a smart device. We are addicts of a such a great technology.

Depending on how you look it, you might say this time is just how people are today. It’s an evolution of human society through technology. These devices empower us with connected knowledge. They entertain us with games, shows and the latest jokes, news, and whatever else is trending. They are like pocket trainers for athletes and people getting in shape. These devices are also considered highly important to many kinds of work and jobs, myself included. If used positively, smart phones can do so much for us.

But many of us don’t use them positively. We use them to avoid something, to be distracted and pulled away. They are things we become addicted too and we feel the ache of a phantom limb when the battery dies, it breaks or we take a break from them. We can’t stop from checking recent notifications.

It’s hard to argue that the reported 5 hour per day young adults are spending on their smart phones is productive, knowledge-building and positive. Most likely this time falls into various forms of communication, whether email, text messages, chatting apps or otherwise, as well as different times of entertainment. A lot of that time is just checking if anything has changed.

I’d argue that this is an unfortunate usage of time. I’m currently striving to decrease my phone time, especially to moderate my mobile gaming time. Instead I try to use my phone in productive and meaningful ways.

Ultimately I’m trying to reach a state of what I’m doing is the best usage of my time. It’s not always about being productive. We aren’t robots that need to spend our lives serving a single purpose. Time is a resource we get to choose and make choices on how we allot it.

Everyone gets 168 hour per week, no more, no less.

So the challenge I push is to find things you want to do. To compare, think of what you might learn or achieve if you allotted less time to your phone and more time to learning. For example, I like to learn languages or, as I like to say, “hack languages.” I’m a big believer of thinking about language learning in terms of hours, not years. So, even if it’s difficult to nail down the exact hours to learn certain languages, we can come up with some baseline numbers like 400-500 hours of focused study to reach intermediate fluency in a language like French or Spanish.

So, if you spent 20% less time on your phone and put it into language learning, you could be fluent in a year! Even less if you made the whole thing an active habit.

Whether it’s learning or health or reading or creative or whatever, you have to make time to do it. Goals becomes realities when you build a process, followup through and put the time and effort into ti.

By tracking your iPhone time you can become aware of that time and decide if and how to make changes. You can start to think if that’s where you want your time to go. And even dream up a better way to spend that time.

Good luck and happy tracking!

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