Matthew Lindfield Seager

Files App on iOS/iPadOS is not limited by Screen Time restrictions or Downtime

After doing some research today it seems there is no way to block the Files app using Apple’s Screen Time settings. Even when the entire device is locked at Downtime, there is no way to block the Files app. Chlidren can therefore use the Files app at any time of the day or night to:

  • Listen to audio files
  • View images
  • Read PDFs and text files
  • View Excel, PowerPoint and Word files
  • Preview contents of Zip files

I suspect this also means that time in the Files app isn’t tracked as part of the Screen Time time limits.

Some restrictions still apply despite this fairly large loophole:

  • Videos can’t be watched; “You’ve reached your limit on Entertainment” (even if you try and cheat by choosing the “Trim” option to edit rather than view or if you put it in a Zip file and preview the contents of the Zip 👍)
  • iWork files can’t be previewed unless their corresponding app is Always Allowed; “You’ve reached your limit on Keynote”
  • Anything that can’t be “Quick Looked” (previewed) in Files can’t be viewed (ePubs, Google Sheets/Slides/Docs/Sites, etc)

This seems like a pretty big gap in Screen Time to me. If you care about this and happen to know anyone at Apple you can prod, I’ve filed Feedback 11953747.

The Gift of Context

Today I had an implementation question for one of our campus principals and she gifted me with the reasoning behind her answer, in addition to answering the question. I call it a gift because it helps me understand her priorities and empowers me to make small related decisions that I might have otherwise had to keep going back to ask her about.

It actually reminded me of something I learned a long time ago in the ADF called “Commander’s Intent”. When issuing orders down the chain of command, each commander should explain the intent or strategy behind their orders to their subordinates. If, or more accurately- when, the plan goes out the window, junior officers, NCOs and even individual soldiers should know enough of the context to adjust their own actions to keep working towards the overall strategy.

For example, instead of just ordering a detachment to deploy a radio transmitter on top of a certain feature (hill) by 0400 hours, the commander should first explain that at 0500 hours a parachute squadron will be deploying into a remote area and needs a backup radio link in case their satelite communications fail.

Now let’s say the radio detachment:

a. has a vehicle failure, b. finds the road marked on the map doesn’t exist, c. encounters an enemy patrol on their planned route, or d. is faced with some other unforseen event

The commander on the ground can evaluate options and come up with a new plan instead of having to radio back and forth with HQ trying to explain the situation to someone who isn’t there and then wait for new orders. Based on their first hand experience of the situation and their knowledge of the overall goal, the detachment commander can evaluate various options and then confirm the new plan with HQ. Options considered might include:

a. waiting for logisitics support to fix the vehicles or continuing on foot with the required equipment, b. choosing an alternate deployment location, c. engaging with the enemy patrol or being very careful to avoid them so as not to give away the larger mission, d. working with another detachment or partner force to provide the back up communications channel

It was a good reminder for me as a manager that I need to share the “why” with my team, not just the “what”. I need to give them the gift of context and intent so they know which tasks are important, when to postpone a task that can wait (or abandon one that no longer contributes to the overall goal) and when to change course without having to ask.

Netflix in the Classroom... kind of

Netflix in the Classroom… kind of

According to its terms of use, Netflix can’t be used in a classroom, it’s only for personal use. However, I recently learned there are certain Netflix documentaries that Netflix grants special permissions to allow educational streamings (e.g. Take Your Pills).

That sounds fantastic but it doesn’t seem like Netflix have actually thought about the intended audience for this as the user experience to identify these documentaries is awful.

If you’re a teacher, here are the steps to find out which documentaries are available:

  1. Navigate to a section of the PR site to see Netflix originals (as far as I know, only originals are eligible for these special permissions)
  2. Click on ‘All Alphabetical’ to get the full list
  3. We only want documentaries so click on the ‘Category’ heading to group the titles by category
  4. It defaults to sorting the categories reverse alphabetically so click on the ‘Category’ heading again to sort alphabetically (this moves the documentaries closer to the top and means we don’t have to click through 45 pages of films, series & stand-up comedy, just one or two pages of Anime)
  5. Scroll to the bottom, looking for documentaries. If there are none click ‘Next’
  6. Repeat step 5 until you’re past the ‘Anime Series’ category. Click/tap on the first documentary to open it up (note that the site seems to be using some sort of custom Javascript click detection so you can’t do normal web browser behaviour, like open the link in a new window. This will become a problem later)
  7. Check if the documentaty permits education screenings. If so, copy the URL (e.g. somewhere for posterity… you’ll need it later to prove you’re allowed to screen the title
  8. Click/tap back in your browser to go to the listing page. Notice that when you go back the page number stays the same but the page reloads, losing your scroll position and sorting preferences
  9. Click the ‘Category’ heading to group by category, reverse-alphabetically (see also point 3 above)
  10. Click the ‘Category’ heading again to group by category, alphabetically (see also point 4 above)
  11. Find the next documentary (you’ll have to manually remember what you’re up to… they’re non-standard links so, unlike a standard web page, you don’t get any indication which links you’ve already clicked on) and click/tap on it to open it up
  12. Repeat steps 7-11 for the other 132 titles (and growing).

On a brand new laptop with no distractions and an uncontested 100Mbps Internet connection (three things I wouldn’t count on teachers in most schools having) I was able to check three documentaries in just under a minute, not including the time to save the URL if it was one of the small percentage that are permitted for educational use (nor the time to navigate to the next page when you finish one).

All up that’s going to be 40+ painful minutes of clicking and navigating for a list of about 25 education permitted documentaries (extrapolating from a fairly small sample).

A far better experience would be if the list view contained a little icon of some sort (a mortaboard hat icon perhaps) indicating which documentaries permit education screenings.

Standard HTML links (that allow opening links in a new tab and seeing which links have already been visited) would also be a huge improvement.

I contacted Netflix PR (the part of the organisation that hosts the “Only on Netflix” portion of the site) over a week ago and asked them for more information about the titles available under this service and whether they were aware of the usability and accessibility issues but I didn’t receive even an automated reply. I will update this post if they get back to me.