When Steve Jobs launched the iPhone, he envisioned a tool to help everyone be productive. But what we’ve ended up with is the opposite. The average smartphone user receives 46 notifications a day. Technology designed to bring us closer together is in danger of pushing us further apart.
The relationship we have with our mobile phone is complicated. But when we have more computing power in our pockets than the Apollo moon landings, are we going to give it up? No one wants a dumb phone, after all, but we need to learn to control the technology we have at our disposal.
The brainchild of Suhas Motwani and Devansh Gulhane, the Indistractable launcher for Android promises to clean out the clutter and help users focus on what matters. With more than 450,000 organic downloads, it’s clearly something people have been wanting for a while.
While other launchers have tried to curb distraction, Indistractable is the first to put traction at the heart of everything it does. With a minimalist, two-tone homescreen and text-only app drawer, Indistractable helps people make conscious choices about the apps they’re using, something former design ethicist Tristan Harris has long been advocating as a way to “un-hijack” your mind from your phone.
“In the last decade there’s been a lot of social platforms vying for attention,” Motwani explains. “They’ve spent billions of dollars just trying to get you addicted to your phone. And we were like, Okay, this is something that’s definitely going to pick up in the next decade because a lot of people are already talking about being stuck to their phones. They have the awareness that they want to get away from their devices, but it’s a little difficult.”
Solving a problem that many of us are only just beginning to realise we have, Indistractable’s growth has gone hand-in-hand with increasing awareness of the impact technology is having on our lives. “It really picked up with Netflix’s Social Dilemma documentary,” Gulhane says. “We have over 450,000 downloads overall, and a couple of months back we launched a premium version. It has a lot of word of mouth growth. But word of mouth is actually working for this product.”
Growing out of Gulhane’s obsession with personal productivity, since its inception in 2018 Indistractable has evolved from side project to fully-fledged product. “I had a target of creating an MVP in three weeks,” Gulhane explains, “It was very bare bones to start with, not much functionality. But it was a good proof of concept. So from that I kept on iterating. It was a side project at the time, so I was just committing two to three hours a day then I left it idle for six months. I didn’t think that it would get any traction or anything.”
But by mid-2019 Indistractable had built up a big enough following to convince Gulhane it was an idea worth pursuing properly. “Around four to six months after it launched I saw that people were leaving feedback behind,” he continues. “And then with the Social Dilemma the number of installs ramped up pretty quickly and I was like, okay, this seems like a very good idea that I can continue on. And then I kept on iterating, listening to the feedback. It’s still very bare bones, but I still love where it is right now.”
Despite (or even because of) its barebones functionality, Indistractable has built a loyal fan base among Android users who want to take back control, but don’t want to go as far as getting rid of their device. “Back in October, I was in Dharamshala and I wondered if I could just randomly meet any person and see that person using the Indistractable launcher on their phone,” Gulhane continues. “And then suddenly in the house I saw a person who was explaining to a bunch of his friends about this launcher. Just two days after I thought this should happen I met a person who organically stumbled upon it and he was doing word of mouth marketing for me. That was a very big moment. A very good moment.”
Beyond the Android launcher, Motwani and Gulhane are planning out an ecosystem of applications to help people deal with digital distraction. “No one has really done a cross-platform play,” Motwani notes. “A bunch of other minimalist launchers have come up, but no one has done cross-platform. A lot of us today use different devices plus desktop, so can we have this coherence across devices? I think that will be one play that a lot of people will be interested in. Especially those who feel like they want to track what they’re doing.”
With an Alpha version of a Chrome extension already available, the big question is whether or not Indistractable will be able to make the leap to iOS for a truly cross-platform experience. “It’s not the easiest thing to do on the list,” Gulhane concedes. “But I think that once the Chrome extension is in a good place we can look at iOS.”
Beyond Android, iOS and Chrome, Motwani and Gulhane have big plans for Indistractable, but they’re taking it slowly. “Initially, a lot of people we talked to wanted a suite of productivity apps to fight distraction and that’s exactly where we want to go,” explains Motwani, when asked about the product roadmap. “But since we had limited bandwidth, it didn’t make sense. Let’s just take a step back and get this to a place where we are super confident and then move on instead of doing a bunch of things. Right now we’re focusing on getting the Chrome extension done plus the launcher. I’d like to get those done then focus on the other apps.”
The duo are also excited about the idea of building a community around people who want to use technology for productivity, not for procrastination. “Promoting that community is something we’re looking forward to this year,” Gulhane says. “Once we have our Android app and Chrome extension properly working together, coupling it with building a community of like-minded people interacting with each other.”
First, though, they’re looking forward to reaching their first million downloads and the opportunities for growth it will bring. “In terms of numbers, I think the first milestone is a million.” Motwani concludes. “We’ve also kicked off our premium version a couple of months back, so we have some internal targets that we want. It’s a lifetime app right now. But I think we might be able to change the model a little bit. And with the community angle coming we want to create a promotion that allows us to work on this a little bit, and add a couple more developers to help us build out the rest of the ideas we want to try a little faster.”
See you next week.
The Punk PM
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