Skip to main content

Is this the anti-smartphone? Siempo's phone cuts out distracting notifications

There’s no question about it: Smartphones are a massive time sink. According to a study by psychologists at Nottingham Trent University, young adults use their phone roughly five hours every day, and it isn’t just young people. Researchers at Deloitte found that Americans of all ages check social media apps, email, and texts a collective 8 billion times each afternoon.

The reasons why each of us reach again and again for the buzzing handsets in our pockets differ, of course, but some psychologists believe it’s an urge rooted in instinctual curiosity. Others argue it’s a form of addiction, and that our phones scratch a habitual itch to know what our friends, family, and acquaintances are up to at any given moment. No matter the cause of our smartphone attachment syndrome, though, most agree it’s a problem — and one that Jorge Selva set out to solve with Siempo, a “new class” of phone that limits distractions.

A distraction-free smartphone

Inspiration struck Selva on a phone-free trip to Peru. “I remember I was sitting out one morning with coffee, reading my Kindle, and thinking to myself, ‘Why do I need my phone?'” he said. “It buzzes for my attention and sucks me into a rabbit hole. I thought I’d have this anxiety or stress, but I didn’t really miss anything,” he said. “I felt productive, present.”

The Siempo is a smartphone at its core. It has a 1GHz quad-core processor, a camera, 8GB of internal storage, a fast-charging 1,600mAh battery, a 4-inch high-resolution screen, and an Android-based operating system. However, it’s unmistakably nontraditional. Unlike flagship phones from the likes of Samsung, LG, Apple, and others, the Siempo doesn’t do a whole lot, and that’s sort of the point.

The design process was evolutionary, Selva said. “We started as a minimalist phone — a dumbphone,” he said. “Then we realized that by migrating to a smartphone design, it gave people more of the ‘nice to haves’ — email, for example. When you’re going after young people, that gives them what they need for a primary phone.”

The Siempo is organized around the idea of “intentions,” or the digital tasks and goals you want to accomplish you unlock your phone. It lacks a home screen and instead serves up what Selva called the Intention Field: A blank search box that uses intelligence to guess at what you want.

It’s as impressive — and clever — as it sounds. Enter a name in the Intention Field, and it’ll pull up the person’s details if they’re in your contact list (or let you add them if they aren’t). It recognizes notes, too, so typing “Buy the milk” will prompt you to save a reminder to Siempo’s memento app. You can even send texts directly from the Intention Field to the recipient number of your choice.

The Intention Field’s just the beginning of Siempo’s minimalist suite. The phone packs a simple email client, calendar app, web browser, and mapping service powered by Google Maps.

Just press pause

However, the undoubted highlight is the Siempo’s “Pause” button, a physical key on its side that temporarily disables incoming notifications.

Pause is a little like Android’s Priority mode. For a block of time, which you specify beforehand, the Siempo blocks text messages and other alerts that aren’t from contacts you’ve chosen to let through.

“It kind of prevents our lizard brain from taking over,” Selva said. “If you see a notification, you’re going to check it.”

“We’ve always had trouble living intentionally and exercising control,  it’s human nature”

Mindful Morning, another of the Siempo’s “focus features,” works in much the same way. When enabled, you won’t see any of the notifications you received overnight. Instead, you’ll get the alarms you set the night before and a list of preparatory, meditative, or wellness tasks to complete.

“We realized that our phones weren’t serving us — that they didn’t benefit us,” said Selva. “It’s the ‘Pomodoro Technique’ — taking chunks of time to accomplish specific activities.”

It isn’t a new problem, Selva said. “We’ve always had trouble living intentionally and exercising control,” he said. “It’s human nature.”

Selva said the decision to design a smartphone rather than release an app for devices on the market was motivated by logistics, in part. “We couldn’t quite deliver on [notifications],” he said. “we tried to hide things and bring them back up, but it didn’t work properly.”

The inefficacy of app-based solutions was the another sticking point — the team wanted to make sure Siempo delivered on its distraction-free promise. “We did extensive research into people who’ve set up phones and found that overwhelmingly, people start strong but fall back,” he said. “Most apps are too easy to circumvent.”

Are people rejecting smartphones?

Siempo seems to have tapped a nerve. One of the most buzzed-about phones this year is the Nokia 3310, a 2G dumbphone. So-called digital-detox camps like Camp Grounded, which charge as much as $600 for phone-free excursions in the Northern California wilderness, have exploded in popularity, too, and it’s no wonder. Studies show that putting down your smartphone for a few extra hours can reduce anxiety and depression.

The Siempo may fall short of a true cure to the problem — it’s a smartphone, after all — but Selva sees it as a half-step toward more mindful living. “People yearn for a better way to be,” he said. “We want to offload that mental stress however we can.

Siempo launches on Kickstarter for $350 this month, and you can sign up for updates here. The first prototypes will become available in May, and the launch target’s Christmas.

Editors' Recommendations

Kyle Wiggers
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Kyle Wiggers is a writer, Web designer, and podcaster with an acute interest in all things tech. When not reviewing gadgets…
Hot or not? Find out for sure using your phone and the new Flir One thermal camera
flir one 2015 thermal camera news iphone

The original Flir One thermal imaging camera, which was built into a smartphone case, took the CES tech show by storm in 2014, and now the company is back with the Flir One 2015, the second generation version of the camera. This time it’s a plug-in accessory for your smartphone, and available for both iOS and Android.

Why would you want a thermal imaging camera? Simple, it sees things your own eyes can’t. Using an enhanced version of Flir’s Lepton thermal camera and some clever multi-spectral dynamic imaging technology it calls MSX, the Flir One 2015 can effectively see in the dark, penetrate smoke or dense fog, find heat sources, check for heat loss, and even see if food is properly cooked.

Read more
FCC urges phone companies to make opt-out anti-theft measures standard on all devices
teen shot to death after tracking down his stolen smartphone 6 people who used find my iphone confront phone thieves

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has recommended smartphone manufacturers adopt anti-theft measures across the board, make them standard on all devices sold with no additional charges, and ensure they are activated out-of-the-box. The measures, which include remote locking and remote data wipe technology, are all part of a series of guidelines made by the FCC’s Mobile Device Theft Prevention Working Group.

While none of the features will be especially new to smartphone users — Android and iOS both have support for such systems — the FCC wants manufacturers to make sure they come switched on, forcing users to actively disable them, rather than the other way around. In addition to the more familiar features, Wheeler also mentions the inclusion of an emergency 911 call feature that works even when the phone is locked.

Read more
Apple iPad is almost back down to its cheapest-ever price
The iPad 10.2 on a table.

We don't see significant Apple deals every day. Even Apple products that are years-old pull full price. The best place to look is Amazon, and they have a noteworthy iPad deal happening today. The iPad Air (9th Gen) is $59, down to just $270. The lowest this product has ever gotten at Amazon is $250, so this is a steal. Don't let it pass you buy.

Why You Should Buy the Apple iPad (9th Gen)
In Digital Trend's Apple iPad 9th Gen review, Adam Doud made it clear that while, yes, it's the same iPad we know and love, some of the upgraded features are definitely worthwhile. He praised its great battery life, powerful internals, which offer reliable performance, front-facing camera upgrade, and Apple's amazing software support. The base model also gets more storage in this model, with 64GB of internal storage. If you want to know a little more about those upgrades you can always check out the Apple iPad 2022 vs. iPad 2021 comparison. It breaks everything down in finer detail and explains the differences.

Read more