We’ve all been there — staring at our smartphones while walking and running into a fellow pedestrian, a tree, or a stop sign. You get texts and calls, you need to check out navigation instructions, and then comes the endless list of notifications begging you to look at the screen. Spend too much time staring while walking, and you risk colliding with others, bumping into buildings and road signs, or wandering right into traffic. Google is aware of the problem, and has been working on a new feature that all distracted walkers could benefit from.
Google’s new Heads Up feature can be found in the Digital Wellbeing app on Android. The feature was first discovered in mid-November when a teardown of the app found code describing functionality that wasn’t enabled in the app. If enabled, Heads Up is meant to stop you from using your phone while walking. Or, at least, the feature will implore you to look up from time to time to make sure you aren’t putting yourself in harm’s way.
The feature will show up in Digital Wellbeing inside the Reduce Interactions section, where you’ll find the new Heads Up menu. Tap on it, and a welcome screen will appear, initiating the set-up process:
Watch your step with Heads Up.
If you’re walking while using your phone, get a reminder to focus on what’s around you.
Use with caution. Heads Up doesn’t replace paying attention.
Heads Up adds reminders to stop using your phone while you’re walking after the setup process is completed. According to a previous teardown, the reminders include warnings like “Watch your step,” “Stay alert,” and “Look up.” Ultimately, it’s up to the user to react to the prompts on the screen. Google does warn in the setup screen that Heads Up doesn’t replace paying attention. The feature won’t actually stop you from looking at the screen.
To work, the app will need access to physical activity. The app also asks for location data, which is a strange permission that doesn’t seem necessary, given that the physical activity permission should be enough to let the phone know that you’re using it while walking around. The location permission is optional, however.
The Heads Up feature is already rolling out to users, with a Pixel 4a owner posting screenshots of the feature in action. To try Heads Up, you’ll just have to update Digital Wellbeing if you have the app installed. The feature might roll out to Pixel phones first, although other devices could also get it soon.
There’s no equivalent to Heads Up on iPhone, and it’s not likely Google would release anything similar on iOS. After all, Heads Up is part of Google’s bigger health app for Android. Apple has its own Health app for iPhone that handles activity data and health information.
Regardless of platform preferences, there is a way to prevent distracted walking, and that’s to stop using your Android device or iPhone while you’re walking around outside.