Social media platforms pervade our everyday lives. Once upon a time, they were created to help us connect with fellow humans. But over time, as user interfaces became significantly more user friendly, we began losing control of the time we spend interacting with these apps. Now we find ourselves struggling to keep up with the volume of the seemingly endless supply of media content available, and end up losing hours out of our weeks to sessions of mindless consumption (“zombie mode”). Existing app timers are like a bandaid solution. They seem to tackle the problem on the surface by limiting usage, but with how easy it is to override them, they do little to actually curb the bad habits in the long run. We were inspired to create an app that is designed to help users develop and maintain healthy social media habits.
What it does
Zom-B-Gone aims to interrupt potential zombie mode scrolling sessions by alerting the user when they've been using a single app for a prolonged period, and prompting them to make a decision to either continue using the social media app or closing it. If the user chooses to continue using the social media app, they would need to complete an activity to be granted access; closing and reopening the app will not remove the barrier either. The user must actively choose to keep using the app.
How we built it
To monitor the user's app usage, a foreground service was used to keep a continuously updated log of the current app that is open. This is checked once every 5 seconds. As the user keeps the app open, the total time is counted. Once the accumulated use time hits the limit - set to 30 minutes by default - an alarm tone is played and the phone vibrates. This continues until the user exits the app they're currently using or completes the required activity.
Challenges we ran into and what we learned
We encountered challenges and obstacles around every corner. Within the first couple of hours we were already working through our first challenge of coming up with a realistic and viable idea given the constraints on our capacity and capabilities. Our team lacked the programming and app development manpower needed to achieve our original grand vision, particularly accounting for the fact that even our most experienced members knew they would have to learn a lot to build our app. Furthermore, due to recently introduced privacy updates that block tracking of processes, we were unable to implement features to the extent we wanted. Coming out of this, we learnt to play to each team members’ strengths and pulled together a final submission that all members had a hand in creating.
In a similar vein to the previously aforementioned challenge of managing our expectations for the completed app, we faced many obstacles trying to bring our pitch to life. Our original storyboard concept included cinematic sequences and fancy editing - but upon reaching Saturday evening and realising that we all live too far away from each other to be able to get all the footage before sundown, we again had to consider downsizing. Compromising meant frantically filming and editing on Sunday and leaving many original plans on the cutting room floor. Nonetheless, we learnt another valuable lesson that proper time management and forward planning is essential when trying to achieve so much within such a tight schedule.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
All in all, UNIHACK 2022 has been an exciting learning experience for all of us, especially the first-time hackers in our team. Working diligently in a high performing team for 48 hours is something of a novel experience for everyone; it is quite exhausting, but strangely addictive… So after many many frustrations with building the app and producing our pitch, seeing all our effort finally culminate in a finished product has been the icing on the cake.
What's next for Zom-B-Gone
Future directions for Zom-B-Gone include:
- Implementation of a city building type game where successfully defended houses can be added to a collection;
- Different house designs;
- Ability to add friends and compare progress;
- Option to reduce the starting distance of the zombies to help build a good habit;
- Analytics on which apps you extend the timer on the most, usage patterns; and
- Developing the app into a form that can be used as a native Android/iOS extension for kids mode.