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Google, Android P take on phone addiction with Android Dashboard

At Google I/O, the tech giant says it wants to help people with digital detox, and it’s introducing new controls to do just that.

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The new features are supposed to help people manage how much time they spend on their phones. 

Josh Miller/CNET

It's time to put the phone down, and Google -- yes, the company behind the world's most popular smartphone operating system -- wants to help with that.

At Google I/O on Tuesday, the company announced a set of new features for Android designed to manage how much time people spend on devices. It may seem counterintuitive for a tech company to push people to spend less time on devices. But digital addiction has become a serious issue, with Americans checking their phones up to 47 times a day.

The issue is not exclusive to Google. Apple shareholders urged the company to address phone addiction among children in January.

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Google's annual developers conference is typically dedicated to showcasing updates coming to Android, with features focused on artificial intelligence and tools that would make you want to use your phones more. But Tuesday's announcement looks to help people spend more time with the real world. 

"Based on our research, we know that people feel tethered to their devices," Google's CEO Sundar Pichai said. 

He introduced Android Dashboard, a new feature where people can see and manage how much time they're spending on their devices. It shows the apps where you spend the most time, the number of times a person's unlocked their phones and how many notifications they've received. 

Pichai coined the idea of unplugging as "JOMO," or the Joy of Missing Out. 

The goals of Google's new "Digital Wellbeing" initiative are to help people understand their digital habits, focus on what matters, switch their devices off and find balance for their family, Pichai said. 

They're rolling features out on YouTube as well, with break reminders and offering the ability to get notifications only once a day -- all the day's pings combined into a single daily digest. Those features will roll out this week, the Google CEO said.

Sameer Samat, Google's vice president of product management, explained some more features, like "Shush" mode, an extension of "Do Not Disturb." While "Do Not Disturb" silences incoming phone calls and text messages, Shush can silence incoming notifications through gestures.

"Helping people with their digital wellbeing is more important to us than ever," he said. "We found over 70 percent of people want more help striking this balance."

Your device, if it's running Android P, can now automatically go on to "Do Not Disturb" mode when you set it faced down. 

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Along with the dashboard, Android P is also introducing App Timer, which lets you set a time limit on how much time you spend on each app. After the time limit expires, the app is grayed out, as a visual reminder that you need to stop using it.

Samat also introduced a new feature called Wind Down mode, which is like bedtime for your phone. You set the time for your phone to wind down, and it turns into Do Not Disturb mode and fades the colors into grayscale once the time is up. 

These features will be coming this fall, and heading to Google Pixel phones first, Samat said.

Updated, 10:51 a.m. PT: To include remarks from Sundar Pichai. And, 11:26 a.m. PT: To include more details from the Android P update.

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