A few months after launching the first in a series of Digital Wellbeing Experiments designed to help smartphone addicts use their phones less, Google is back with a few new unusual ideas.

The most unusual of the bunch? Envelope.

It’s an app that lets you wrap your phone in a paper envelope so that you can only use it to make phone calls or snap photos and shoot videos (that or is important — each activity requires a different envelope).

Want the full phone experience again? You’ll have to unseal the envelope and remove your phone.

The Envelope experience is powered by two components:

  • A smartphone app
  • An envelope you create by folding a piece of paper with buttons in the right spots.

So in order to use Envelope, you’d fire up the app, slide your phone into the paper envelope, and then seal it up.

You can make a phone call by pressing the number keys on the phone envelope, and they’ll light up as you dial to let you know that your key presses have been registered. When using the camera envelope, you can press the Photo or Video buttons to capture a shot… but you won’t be able to review your photos until you break open the envelope and remove your phone.

When yo do take your phone out of an envelope, the app will tell you how long you lasted with the phone covered in paper.

This all works because smartphones with capacitive touchscreen displays work even if you place a piece of paper over the top. Sort of. They’ll detect touch input, but you won’t be able to see the screen.

Right now the Envelope app only supports the Google Pixel 3a though, so if you’ve got a different phone, then the number pad or photo & video buttons may not line up properly unless Google adds support for more phones (or maybe you’re a developer who wants to do it yourself — the source code for Envelope is hosted at Github).

Still, Envelope is actually a pretty nifty alternative to buying a less distracting phone… albeit one that makes it clear the ridiculous lengths some folks might go to reduce their smartphone addiction.

It’s also not Google’s only paper-based Digital Wellbeing experiment. Last year the company introduced the Paper Phone, which lets you print calendar appointments, weather forecasts, task lists, contact details, and a map, among other things, to a piece of paper that you can fold up and put in your pocket while leaving your phone at home.

Some of Google’s slightly more practical new Digital Wellbeing Experiments include a Screen Stopwatch that replaces your wallpaper with a clock telling you how long you’ve used your phone so far today, and Activity Bubbles, which does something similar by filling your home screen with bubbles each time you unlock your phone (with the size of each bubble corresponding to the length of time you’ve used your device.

via Android Police

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  1. Something like this would be good for schools – kids better have their phones in a goofy envelope box (so they could do an emergency call if needed, only) in all classes, etc. Doesn’t run afoul of FCC rules about cell phone signal jamming…

  2. Google reminds me of the career reform politician, where the demands to DO SOMETHING NOW lead to, well, something being done now. After all, promises are cheap and easy.

    “Help Google, I can’t stop looking at addictively engaging content and experiences!”
    “OK, we’ll add software to our ridiculously engaging experience which arbitrarily locks the screen for a time. This totally won’t reinforce an addictive response.”

    “Help Google, punitive annoyances I can disable at convenience worked as poorly as cutting all joy from my food for weight loss!”
    “OK, we’ll put a chastity girdle… I mean, envelope, on your addictive experience. Costs extra to get one for your laptop.”

    1. Edit to add: Maybe THEY can push an e-Ink device. One side has color and video, and loses you virtue points for engaging. The other is e-Ink, capable of minimal content. Maybe its borders should shrink if you check PUSH notifications or use the video screen. Look at my Pixel 6 with its easy-judge-me side.

    2. I agree. I think the better solution for everyone would be to let phones dual boot, one OS is android, the other is an ultra light system stripped down to a terminal that does this and that’s about it. Maybe it can be allowed to do SMS as well. And toggle the flashlight. And airplane mode.
      At least, it would be better than making me cut out a paper envelope.
      …And certainly better than anything involving “virtue points”. Wait, that’s not a thing google is doing already is it? They haven’t actually begun to institute a formal global Social Credit system for all other businesses to join in with have they?