This app rewards you with discounts for not looking at your iPhone


iPhone Hold
Hold gives discounts on products if you put down your iPhone.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Not looking at your smartphone is the new looking at your smartphone. Or, at least, that’s the idea driving an intriguing app which aims to reward students with discounts on movie tickets and other services if they don’t keep checking their iPhones.

Here’s how it works, and why its creators think it matters.

The world of smartphone addiction

The Hold app first launched in Norway back in February 2016. In its first three months, it received 50,000 downloads among its intended user base of higher education students. Today, around 40 percent of higher education students in Norway have reportedly used the app, and it’s attracted a total of 120,000 users across Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

The idea is pretty straightforward: Hold partners with universities and businesses, such as cinemas, food chains, and more. Students at affiliated universities then rack up points for not checking their phones for a certain length of time. These points can be converted into discounts.

It’s a great idea for a world in which more and more of us worry about the effects of “smartphone addiction.” Even if some of the concern may be overblown (similar concerns follow the arrival of just about every new technology or communication medium), there’s still reason to be cautious.

A 2017 study by the University of Texas found that having a smartphone within eyeshot alone can reduce productivity, slow down response speed, and reduce grades among students. A similar 2015 study by the U.K.’s London School of Economics found that students who didn’t use their smartphones on school grounds experienced a 6.4 percent increase in their test scores.

Hold was founded by three students: Maths Mathisen, Florian Winder, and Vinoth Vinaya.
Photo: Hold

Effects of smartphone overuse may extend further than this. In her 2017 book, iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy, and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, and What That Means for the Rest of Us, psychologist Jean Twenge explores the link between smartphone overuse and mental health problems, such as depression.

(Hey, maybe there’s a reason Steve Jobs didn’t let his children use gadgets too much!)

Adding incentive

Under pressure from activists, Tim Cook has promised that Apple will introduce measures that will allow parents to monitor their kids’ screen time more closely. There are also other third-party apps on the market that will do exactly that. What makes Hold intriguing, though, is that it monetizes the experience, thereby incentivizing the user themself rather than going over their heads to a parent or guardian.

Today, Hold launched in the U.K., its first English language market — and its biggest market so far. Announcing a partnership with cinema chain Vue Entertainment and others, students from over 170 universities across the country can (from right now!) earn points to get big discounts on movie tickets or free boxes of popcorn. Other partners include Costa Coffee, Amazon, Planet Organic, Ugly Drinks, Jabees, Onepiece, and FlowMotion.

Users accumulate 10 points for every 20 minutes they don’t use their mobile phone, between the hours of 7am and 11pm, seven days a week. Points are linked with university email addresses, and can be easily exchanged for prizes at the point of payment.

While it’s not yet available in the United States, a representative for Hold told Cult of Mac that there are some preliminary conversations taking place. The app can be downloaded here. It will be fascinating to watch what happens next.


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