Turn your old iPhone into a dumb phone

Do you wish you spent less time mindlessly scrolling on your phone? You are not alone: a growing number of people want that. However, it can be very difficult to get rid of your phone, partly because most apps are specifically designed to be as addictive as possible. That's why I tried it switching to deliberately simple phones to see if they help me concentrate. And you know what? It works, because I scroll less (but I inevitably end up missing my smartphone's features).

If you want to try out a simpler phone but don't want to splurge on a specialty device, there's a relatively new iPhone feature called Assisted access which allows you to turn your current iPhone (or an older iPhone you have in a junk drawer) into something that resembles a simplified dumb phone. That means it can only perform the basic functions: texting, calling, music and photos, and any other applications you specifically want to enable.

The feature is part of iOS 17, which was released last summer. Supported devices includes every iPhone released since late 2017, so the Xr/Xs and later. That's been long enough that you might have a compatible phone in a drawer somewhere, or know someone who does. This is great if you want a simplified phone on hand, or if you want to give a stripped-down smartphone to a child. Let's see how you can enable the feature.

How to enable assistive access on iPhone

To get started, open it System settings application on iPhone and go to Accessibility > Assisted access. If you can't find this feature, make sure you're using iOS 17. You may need to perform an update.

Screenshot: apple

Crane Set up assistive access and you'll be asked a series of questions: what you want the grid to look like, which apps you want to enable, and more. Something is also said about how the function works. Don't skip these slides: they are useful.

screenshot of Assistive Access on iPhone
Screenshot: apple

You can also decide which applications you want to enable in Assistive Access. There are five applications that have been customized to work well in this mode: Calls, Camera, Messages, Music and Photos. You can control what features these applications offer, for example by enabling the video camera and selfie mode in the Camera app, or deciding which messages are allowed through in iMessage.

screenshot of Assistive Access on iPhone
Screenshot: apple

If you want, you can also offer unsupported applications. When everything is configured exactly the way you want, keep pressing Get on. Finally you will be asked to add a number key for this mode. Anyone who wants to spend less time on their phone should stop and think. You need this key to switch back to iPhone normal mode. If you know the number key, there's nothing stopping you from switching back to full iPhone mode. So if the purpose of this feature is for you to spend less time on your phone, consider finding someone else to set up the key for you. (Just make sure she Don't forget the key.)

Once you've gone through the process, you'll see a simplified version of your phone's operating system, showing only the applications you've allowed. The telephone, camera, messaging, photo and music applications also become a lot simpler.

screenshot of Assistive Access on iPhone
Screenshot: apple

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