One of the few daily newsletters I almost always skim is Product Hunt‘s Daily email. Pretty short, digestible and themed (hello Harry Potter), it generally fits quite nicely into a commute or equivalent. The other day the theme was “10 Apps for your mood“. As well as the usual heavyweights (Headspace, Calm), it featured a fewer up-and-comers that launched on Product Hunt in the last year.
The one which caught my eye was Siempo, which promises to “turn your phone into a healthier digital experience 📱” (emoji theirs). That sounded pretty good, so I downloaded it to give it a try.
Off the bat the user experience is quite intimidating, as it pretty immediately asks you for every phone permission under the sun, making me instantly suspicious. Perhaps it’s on me – I didn’t know initially that Siempo was a “Launcher” app, effectively replacing your phone’s Home screen and App catalogue. Now I do know that, it makes sense that it would need pretty invasive permissions, but it still feels weird. Whatever the weather I think Siempo could do a better job explaining what is going on before you give it permission to view your blood type, and could also maybe reassure you of the robust privacy of that information. Rant over.
Once you have done all that, you are presented with a basic black and white UI instead of your normal home screen.
Siempo aims to “put you back in control of your apps and protect you from overuse”, and it is surprising how effective a nondescript home screen is. Colourful branded icons are gone, and most non-core apps require you to search for them, rather than your thumb’s muscle memory taking you there. Introducing this minor friction acts as a reminder, and more than once I find myself putting my phone down to focus on what I was doing as a result.
There is also the concept of “Flagged” apps, which you don’t want to spend time on. Siempo had a few pre-populated – Twitter (guilty), Snapchat (not guilty), YouTube (not guilty) and LinkedIn (on the odd weird occasion). I left them in as they were. These apps don’t show up in the main search results, requiring you to go to a separate taboo section, another simple segregation which is actually quite effective. You can also opt to be reminded when you have spent too much time on a “Flagged” app (if you hand over yet more permissions), some gentle prompts and a counting clock showing up at the top or bottom of your screen.
Siempo lets you batch up notifications, so they only arrive periodically or at a certain time. My phone (a OnePlus) treats the batches kind of strangely (they are all Siempo notifications when they come through), so I haven’t gone for this one yet, but I do see the utility during periods of focused time.
I could think of some additional potential features. Analytics is one, given all the data I know the app has – it would be interesting to know where I am spending all my time, and I have always thought that notification analytics would be cool to see. I would also be interested in Time of day controls or switches, so I can be “at work” or “at home” and have different experiences accordingly. I think there is a trick missed integrating something like Unsplash in the name of lovely photos for people to look at (value-add stuff I know). On a more serious note, the lack of a payment option for the service is a bit unnerving, particularly for a product that has quite so much of your personal information. Everyone’s got to eat, I am happy to pay for digital services I value, and I feel like lots of people are increasingly of that view. If anything, finding a Patreon page with only 5 backers made me all the more anxious, but maybe there is a business model underneath it all that I am unaware of (and happy to update this to reflect that if anyone is in the know).
Overall though I am pretty impressed with Siempo, and at the very least it made me think quite a bit about my phone usage. I have friends who have contemplated ditching their smartphone altogether in favour of a less distracting brick phone – I think this software-based approach is a less drastic middle ground.
It made me think about trust – in giving access to Siempo, I was reminded of how much my smartphone knows or could know about me. Having worked in a couple of tech companies, I actually think the extent to which that data is actively used right now is less than one might suspect (or fear), but things could certainly go in that direction. You are also trusting them to keep your information safe, which is probably actually the bigger concern.
It made me wonder why smartphone makers don’t give you more control over their inbuilt Launcher apps, instead letting addictive apps run amok across your home screen and attention span. Controlling that experience, or at least giving people tools to do so if they want, is something I hope phone companies are thinking about.
So quite a lot taken away from a random app downloaded on a whim, but that is probably because Siempo strikes a very current nerve. Phones at their best are magical devices that create wonderful experiences and foster global connection, phones at their worst are attention slot machines. Siempo is focused on (preventing) the latter, which is certainly a noble cause.