Friday, October 18, 2019

Catalina Screen Time Isn’t Reporting Actual App Usage

Kirk McElhearn:

Screen Time was also added to macOS Catalina, with the same features. However, it doesn’t seem to work correctly. Rather than showing which apps are frontmost when you work, it shows how long apps are open[…]

I keep a number of apps open all the time: Mail, Messages, Fantastical, Omni Focus, Music, and a few others. So counting them as actual “screen time” makes no sense.

In the above example, all these apps were open all day – obviously, the Finder is always “open” – so the data is essentially useless.


Screen Time also records “Pickups.” While this makes sense for an iOS device – how many times you picked up your iPhone and woke it up – it really makes little sense on the Mac. A pickup on the Mac is the number of times you woke the device from sleep, or restarted it.

Mac remains a product in our lineup. But good news for all the prior art that remains un-Sherlocked.

Update (2019-10-21): John Gruber (tweet):

I can’t see the point of this feature on the Mac other than as a parental control. It seems like Apple just copied the design of iOS’s Screen Time without considering any of the many ways that the Mac is different from iOS.

John Voorhees:

If my Mac’s screen is unlocked for five hours, that means every one of those apps will log five hours of use, which isn’t very helpful if I was writing for three hours, messaging for 30 minutes, and away from my desk with my Mac awake for an hour and a half. I’d prefer if Screen Time on the Mac recorded only the time spent in the app that has the focus.


That said, there is still utility in having Screen Time built into Catalina. The app works as it does on iOS. Parents can set up limits from a Mac or iOS device, and because the feature works across OSes now, limits can be set for combined usage across all devices.

3 Comments RSS · Twitter

This whole "Apple ships Mac software that doesn't even work at the most basic level" is getting old. It's like they're aspiring to be Windows.

@Ben G
Parental Controls back on Leopard were broken in many ways. Unfortunately, this is not a new phenomenon. I was going to make a Linux joke, but you beat me to it with a Windows joke. Kudos.

It’s a dumb idea anyway, as monitoring screen usage on a desktop computer is not nearly as much of a problem as in a phone. Don’t most people just get on their computer to do work? Plus most of the stuff you’d waste time doing on a computer would be in a browser tab, which afaik cant be individually monitored anyway. This seems more like a “how can Apple check a few pointless things on a list of features” than a “we’re solving an identified user problem in the best way possible”.

Seriously, if Apple thinks people are spending too much time on their Macs, how about make the hardware and software better (more feature complete and less limited) so that it actually gets out of my way and lets me do my work instead of being so buggy, leaving me to chase my tail half the time?

Leave a Comment