The Apple Watch Does Reduce the Time You Spend on Your iPhone

by Kevin Holesh

Inspired by Apple’s own “your phone is ruining your life” motivation behind creating the Apple Watch, I dove into the phone use data collected anonymously in Moment to see if the Apple Watch affected how often people are picking up their iPhones. I knew Moment was in the unique position to actually prove if the Apple Watch helped people use their phones less and see if Apple accomplished their goal.

Before the Apple Watch came out, my gut instinct was telling me that the Apple Watch would make the problem worse. How could strapping a screen to your wrist — where a text or SnapChat could literally shake you awake — help someone’s constant craving to be connected? I thought if you got a buzz on your wrist, you’d see the notification and immediately dive into the digital glow of your iPhone screen.

At least pulling your phone out of your pocket to check a notification offered some friction. The Apple Watch is frictionless.

Everyone vs. Watchers

To establish a baseline, here are the averages across every person using Moment. Before the Apple Watch shipped April 24th, that average was 132 minutes with 48 pickups. After the 24th, the average is 137 minutes with 49 pickups, so it’s gone up a little in the past month.

To compare, I separated the people that used Moment’s Apple Watch app that was installed when you first set up your Apple Watch. I only included a person if they used Moment for a couple weeks before they got the Watch and for a couple weeks after they got the Watch. I call this group the watchers.

Pre-Watch, the average watcher used their phone for 145 minutes a day with 54 pickups. Post-Watch, the average dropped slightly to 141 minutes a day with 51 pickups.

Despite the upward trend for the baseline group, the average dropped for the watchers after getting the Apple Watch, but not by much.

That’s not the interesting part though.

The 60%

The slight majority of the Watchers, about 60%, actually saw a huge decline in their phone use after the Watch. Those checkers saw their iPhone use go down an average of 20 minutes a day after they got their Apple Watch. They also picked up their iPhone 9 fewer times each day.

Checkers and Perusers

I have a theory that there are two types of iPhone users: the checkers and the perusers. The checkers are the people who are constantly picking up their phone to quickly check something, mostly their notifications. Checkers are the ones who leave their phone out at the dinner table, face up, to instantly see if their phone lights up.

Perusers are the one’s who use their iPhone for longer periods of time to occupy their mind and to fend off boredom. Five minutes in line at the grocery store, fifteen minutes checking Twitter at lunch. Perusers pick up their phone less often, but use it for a longer period each time they unlock their iPhone.

In my case, I’m a peruser. I check Twitter and my RSS reader when I need a break from work or after 5 PM when I’m relaxing on the couch. I have all of my notifications turned off, except for texts and phone calls, so I’m rarely prompted by a notification to pick up my iPhone.

My wife is a checker. She has all of her notifications turned on, so she’s instantly notified when she gets an email or when someone comments on her Facebook photo. She’s always flipping her iPhone face down at dinner so she’s not tempted to look at the screen that just started glowing.

My wife and I use our phone for about the same amount of time each day (90 minutes), but she’ll pick it up 70 times and I’ll only pick it up 25.

Graph showing how minutes are normally distributed and pickups are not

The data from Moment seems to support this too, although not perfectly. The # of minutes is normally distributed, but the # of pickups isn’t. There’s a little peak at the start and a little peak at the end, with a dip in the middle.

Applying this thinking to the Apple Watch, it makes sense that the checkers would benefit most from the Watch. They can quickly see their notifications and move on without touching their iPhone.

It’s only been a little over a month since the Apple Watch came out and it’s already changing people’s relationship with their iPhone. I call that is a huge success for the Apple Watch. I did not expect it to make such a difference, but maybe that’s the peruser in me talking.

Notes about the Data

The baseline averages were calculated from 1.8 billion minutes of phone use and 500 million pickups. There were 206 people who were included in the watchers group, with 6.8 million minutes and 1.9 million pickups.