Google’s Android P launches with a new name – it’s Pie – and focuses on screen-time addiction

Android P stands for Pie

P is for Pie.

That’s the yummy new moniker for the latest version of Android that Google finally revealed on Monday, the same day that Android 9 Pie comes out of its beta test phase and starts showing up via an over-the-air update on all of the company’s Pixel smartphones.

Google, of course, has been naming versions of Android after appetizing treats for years – thus, Pie follows, among others, Oreo, Nougat, Marshmallow, and Lollipop.

As in the past -alas – if you’re one of the many people who own a branded Android handset that’s not from Google, you’ll have to wait as long as until the end of the year (and possibly beyond) before P is made available on your device.

Phones that participated in the Android P beta – including handsets from Sony Mobile, Xiaomi, HMD Global, Oppo, Vivo, OnePlus and Essential, as well as all qualifying Android One devices – will receive the update by the start of winter, Google says. No word yet though on when users of Samsung’s popular Galaxy devices might be able to get Pie.

What for many of you may be the most welcome new features to come with the new operating system weren’t even available during the P beta period. I’m speaking of the “digital wellbeing” tools found inside the phone’s settings that represent Google’s attempt at helping you combat screen-time addiction and strike a balance between your digital and off-device life. These include screen-time limits and a “wind down” feature that encourages you to put your phone down at bedtime.

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Google says 70 percent of the people it has talked to in doing research want more help disconnecting.

The largest companies in tech appear to be finding this religion at the same time. Similar Screen Time tools will be part of iOS 12, when Apple’s own new mobile operating system launches in the fall. Facebook has also recently introduced tools to tackle screen addiction on its own apps.

I got to check out Pie, and Google’s digital well-being features, on a Pixel 2XL phone a few days ahead of today’s launch. It’s important to note that the digital well-being tools themselves are still technically in beta and are not aimed at monitoring your kids activity. (Google has other tools in place for that.).

So here’s what you can expect with Pie.

Digital Wellbeing

The heart of such tools is a dashboard that reveals how much time you’re spending on your phone overall, as well as how much time you’re spending in each app. Off the top of your head, you probably already have a good sense of which apps are the ones where you’re spending an ungodly chunk of your digital life. But it’s still instructive – and, at times, revealing – to see the stats right in front of you.

The dashboard also lets you know how often you unlocked the device – that’s revealing in itself – and how many notifications you received.

You’ll find a link right there to a screen where you can shut off or manage notifications for specific apps. However, I’d like to see Google better surface where most of your notifications are coming from through the dashboard.

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You can also set custom time limits on given apps, and that, too, is potentially useful. I’d again like to see Google go a bit further and let you determine the specific hours during the day when you wouldn’t want to be able to use such apps, be it mealtime, for example, or when you need to study for an exam.

You’ll get a nudge just before you bump up against your app limits, and when the time comes – even if you’re in the middle of, say, watching a YouTube video – the app will cease working and the icon for it will be grayed out.

Of course, if you really do need to finish watching the video (or whatever else you were doing), you can return to settings and add more time. There’s just enough friction that perhaps you won’t do that.

Android previously included Do Not Disturb features that silence phone calls and texts before; with Pie, you can also shut off visual notifications.

New with Pie as well is a Wind Down feature which, at your designated bedtime, turns on Do Not Disturb and a night light that tints your screen amber. What’s more, the entire display suddenly goes from color to grayscale. The idea is that entering this mode will be far less stimulating for the brain, and perhaps you’ll set the device down until it’s time to wake up in the morning when color on the screen is restored.

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What else is in Pie

Pie is about more than just getting you to put your phone down, of course, and if you’ve also used an iPhone X, some of the new navigational gestures in the latest Android may even seem familiar. For example, if you swipe up halfway from the bottom of the screen, you’ll see cards that represent the open apps on your phone. You can then tap on a card to have that app take up the full screen or swipe left or right to scroll through your open apps.

Though it’s difficult to get an immediate read on how well all these enhancements will work, Google says Pie employs artificial intelligence to better learn from your behavior to predict what you’ll do next. So if you plug in headphones, for example, the phone may automatically take you to the playlist you were previously listening to.

Pie is also supposed to learn your usage patterns to lengthen battery life (by only devoting resources to the apps and services you care about at the moment) and to automatically adjust the brightness levels on the device to your display preferences.

I like some of the smaller things in Pie, such as the simplicity with which you can capture a screen shot. Or, as Google would want me to put it, as easy as Pie.

Email: [email protected]; Follow USA TODAY Personal Tech Columnist @edbaig on Twitter.

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