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By Dan Moren

Wish List: Temporarily disable Downtime

As with most of Apple’s major software releases, iOS 12 contained a slew of new features—often more than any one person would find themselves using regularly. But one new ability that I have found myself actually using over the past few months was Downtime. This subset of the Screen Time feature lets you define times where your access to certain apps is restricted. However, I ended up turning Downtime off the other week, because it lacked one specific feature: the ability to temporarily disable it.

Let me clarify: While you can override the Screen Time/Downtime restrictions on an app-by-app basis (or, in the case of Safari, a site-by-site basis), there’s no overall control for it other than navigating into Settings and turning Downtime off in the Screen Time section.

That bit me the other week as I was traveling for vacation. Normally, I had Downtime set to run until 7 a.m., around the time I usually get up. But because of our trip to Mexico, we had to leave for the airport at around 5:30 a.m. Now, I do have some apps whitelisted for Downtime (and iOS automatically whitelists things like Phone and Messages), and you can, as I said, override individual apps either for a day or for fifteen minutes. Usually if I find myself waking up before Downtime turns off, I don’t mind popping into a couple apps and telling it to ignore my restrictions.

But if I’m going to be up for a full hour and a half before my limit expires and I need to a) hail a ride to the airport, b) make sure I can access my boarding pass, and c) do all the other time-wasting stuff I do while waiting for a really early flight, well, I don’t want to spend the time overriding those apps one at a time. So I went with the nuclear option and turned the whole feature off.

Then, of course, the issue was that I kept forgetting to turn it back on. As a result, I realized only now, a week after we got back, that I’m not even using Downtime anymore. Which is a shame, because it’s not a bad feature; it’s just inconvenient, in more ways than it’s probably intended to be.

So my proposal is this: treat it a little more like Do Not Disturb. If I wake up before my scheduled Do Not Disturb window expires, I can always use the notification on the lock screen to tell it to turn off DND, and thus receive any suppressed notifications. Downtime should have its own equivalent: “disable until this evening,” for example. A button in Control Center would also work.

I realize that some people use Downtime as enforcement on their kids’ devices and, as such, it requires the Screen Time passcode to disable. But that’s fine; iOS should still prompt you for a passcode if you’re trying to disable it for the day. (And if you’re managing Downtime for your kids via Family Sharing, then there should be the ability for you to remotely override it for their devices in similar situations.)

I’m actually fairly optimistic that a feature like this could make it into a future version of iOS, perhaps even as soon as next year. The Do Not Disturb improvements in iOS 12 are a good example of how Apple refines a feature after it’s been in use amongst the general public, and I’m hoping for a similar refinement to Downtime. In the meantime, at least I’ve finally remembered to turn it back on.

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[Dan Moren is a tech writer, novelist, podcaster, and the Official Dan of Six Colors. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]