Disarming My Smartphone.

The Backstory

(Probably more than you need or want to know…but hey, I’m writing and you are reading – you can skip this section and I’ll never know)

I have a rough time sleeping (I go to see a sleep specialist on Monday and have been through a sleep study previously). I oftentimes can’t sleep through the night (waking up at 2 or 3 in the morning and unable to fall asleep till 5 or 6) and oftentimes struggle with excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS).

I’m in pretty good physical shape at this point – which is pretty amazing, especially considering all that I went through over the last few years with my health…sure there are still aches and pains and various nuisances…but I can live with them – the only one that really still frustrates me is this sleep issue – particularly the EDS.

I use my smartphone as my alarm clock – and I use Sleepbot to monitor my sleep – so I want to have my smartphone near me while I sleep…but this can sometimes be counterproductive. If someone sends me a SMS or FB message in the middle of the night I may hear it. If some stupid app I’ve recently installed and haven’t turned off notifications on (b/c I didn’t think they would have any!) decides the best time toย notify me of something is at 2 ย or 3 am I may be woken.

Theย Recommendations

So I began searching for an application that would allow me to selectively mute my phone while still maintaining my availability. This would be simple enough if I didn’t need to be available for emergencies pretty much 24/7 (being in the pastorate and IT, where work oftentimes occurs off-schedule and with some urgency).

I did a little search around but didn’t come up with anything great. I find Google’s app store abysmal in its search functionality…even more inferior than its web search (which I use but loathe).[1] So, where does one turn when a google doesn’t turn up the answer? No, not Bing (sorry Microsoft!), Quora. You can see the question and answers here.

The main options offered where (a) CynagoenMOD’s ROM (but this would require placing the stock ROM – essentially the OS of the phone), (b) IFTTT (the programmability is nice, but it lacks, at least easily, all the features I need), (c) Locale (but it is fairly expensive for an app), (d) Tasker (but involves more programming than I was interested in), (e) Agent, (f) Do Not Disturb, and (g) Dindy (this is the app I’ve settled on).

My Choice: Dindy

An Android, open source application that can block phone calls and text messages at night.

An Android, open source application that can block phone calls and text messages at night.

I chose Dindy first because I’m a sucker for open source. If I have to choose between two products with the same featureset and one is open source and the other closed – I’ll go with the open source app almost every time.[2]

The killer feature I was looking for is the ability to let calls through if it is an emergency. In essence, if a phone call is made repeatedly (over a short period of time), it will be allowed through even if the app is set to reject calls. This way if someone really needs to get a hold of me, they can.

A secondary crucial feature is its ability to send text message responses to calls and texts I receive informing the person that I am unavailable and what they should do if it is an absolute emergency (e.g. call several times in a short span of time).

The one bummer is if the phone call comes from a land line you can’t send back a text message – so the person doesn’t know they need to keep calling…but honestly, whenever folks have an emergency (and oftentimes when they don’t :P) they blow up my phone with repeated calls…so I don’t think this will be a huge issue.

There are other features like the ability to whitelist and the ability to create different contexts with different messages – like if I am “away” from the phone, in a meeting, driving, or so on.

But there were two other apps that were close contenders with Dindy, lets talk about what I liked about them (that Dindy doesn’t have ::cough:: hint to developer ๐Ÿ˜‰ ::cough::) and what they lacked that led me to utilize Dindy instead.

Do Not Disturb

An Android app which can selectively block calls, available in free and premium editions.

An Android app which can selectively block calls, available in free and premium editions.

This application comes at a free level, but really you’ll want the premium level. The cost is reasonable for an app. – $2.50. You can try the premium features in the free edition for two weeks for free.

Do Not Disturb lost a few points for not being open source (I don’t hold this against closed source projects, I have no beef with folks making closed source apps…but I trust that open source apps will be around longer, b/c someone else can pick up development if the original developer drops out…whereas closed source projects oftentimes are acquihired or simply shuttered)…

where DND really took a hit was in its lack of multiple modes besides day and night. Dindy provides me with the ability to create an infinite number of contexts – each with their own settings – with DND I’m restricted to two.

That said, DND does offer the ability to disable WiFi and data at night (saves battery) and to automatically (if desired) go mute during meetings (based on my calendar). Pretty sweet features.

Agent

Agent offers several automated "agents" that perform different functions - one being selective call blocking. It is closed source but free.

Agent offers several automated “agents” that perform different functions – one being selective call blocking. It is closed source but free.

The other application – which is quite the slick operator – is called Agent. It does quite a bit more than muting – it also takes action when your battery gets low, automatically remembers where you parked, and automatically goes into mute mode when you are driving (and, of course, all of these are configurable).

It also provides reporting capabilities which tell you what agent has been up to – when it has turned on and off certain functionality. Pretty sweet.

In addition it allows (unlike either DND or Dindy) disabling of auto-sync and of bluetooth (to save battery life).

Where it lost out to Dindy was in its lack of full customizability. It is limited to three contexts (meeting, driving, sleeping) and doesn’t allow for customizing how many calls the individual has to make before they are let through (I have it setup to allow through on the second call – which is what Agent has as the default, but Dindy’s customizability is really nice…and I like having options).

Dear Dindy

So, to recap, here is what I’mย hoping Dindy might add in the near future:

  • Integrate with my calendar to allow automatic muting for meetings (bonus points for allowing keyword based filtering of which meetings like DND offers).
  • Include the ability to turn off wifi, data, bluetooth, and data sync as part of “going silent.”
  • Auto detect when I am driving and go silent.
  • Allow me to schedule the days/times I want Dindy to go silent at night (I forgot to mention that Dindy lacks and both DND and Agent offer this feature), so I don’t need to remember to start Dindy’s mute mode manually each night.

Dear DND and Agent

You both have great projects. Should you implement the features I mention that Dindy is currently missing, let me know. ๐Ÿ˜‰

PS Google, Microsoft & WordPress

  • Google: I know you want to move to the new WebP project, but it makes my life difficult when you have your images in WebP format.
  • Microsoft: I am pretty unhappy you aren’t integrating WebP into IE.
  • WordPress: Please add WebP as a default allowed file format for uploading.
  1. [1]I’ve written several times on the past on alternative search engines as well as on my belief that social search engines could provide a way to give much better results.
  2. [2]Though if it is not under active development and the closed source app is, I’ll go with closed source…I’m interested not only in what the app can offer today but also what it will offer in the future.

3 Responses

  1. Amit says:

    Hey Dave,

    You can do everything you’re missing in Dindy using an automation app (e.g. Tasker) with Dindy.

    I do hope you continue reading though ๐Ÿ™‚

    I saw a surge in Dindy’s downloads and I think it’s because of your review. I will address your requests, but first I would like to give some context about Dindy’s development and current status.

    I started developing Dindy back in 2009 (for Android 1.5) because I found myself in meetings sending text messages to callers asking them whether it was urgent and whether I should call them back. I realized this could be automated and be useful in other situations (e.g. night time) so I created Dindy. This is going to sound egotistical, but I basically created Dindy for myself ๐Ÿ™‚ All the profiles after a clean installation are set so that Dindy is useful to me out of the box. But I think these initial settings are pretty sensible for most people as well.

    There is only one feature (the most requested one), which I only recently developed, that was added because users asked me for it – the whitelist. I don’t have any use for it myself, and it wasn’t so easy to add, but I understand that it’s useful to a lot of people. The reason I objected to adding it for a long time was that I was afraid that people might be over-relying on Dindy to let whitelist callers through and they would miss very important calls (maybe even emergency calls). I mean – every software has bugs, and although I haven’t gotten any report about the whitelist feature not working, I’m sure that in some corner case it will fail (because that’s just software – new code has bugs). But users don’t seem to care about this and freely install buggy software that messes up their lives, so I did my best with the whitelist and hopefully no one will suffer greatly from it ๐Ÿ™‚

    (as a side note, another thing that users don’t care about is privacy. Dindy doesn’t use an Internet connection to give the only absolute promise of privacy available today. That’s the reason that, even if I wanted to, I couldn’t add ads to Dindy)

    When I talk about Dindy users, it’s important to understand how many users Dindy has: the current worldwide count of Dindy installations is a whopping… 598. Yes, it’s that unpopular ๐Ÿ™‚ At its peak Dindy had around 1200 installations. And over the past 4.5 years only 8566 people tried installing it overall. Obviously I don’t do any marketing for it. When I created Dindy it wasn’t free and I thought it was worth 0.99$ but that didn’t catch on, so I made it free and open source. There is a way to donate on the website, and so far I’ve gotten a total of 3$ US of donations from 2 users ๐Ÿ™‚

    What I’m trying to say is that developing Dindy is a hobby. I have a day job that doesn’t give me much time to mess with it. Lately, after 2 years of neglecting Dindy and declining usage statistics, I decided to breath some life into it – I updated the user interface to a more modern look and feel, and added the whitelist. It kind of worked – Dindy is now slowly rising in usage, but it will probably never be as popular as the other DND apps you reviewed.

    One feature that I think goes un-noticed is the widgets – you can put a profile button on your home screen (for every profile you use) and never go into the app again, making it very simple to start and stop profiles. The time limit for profiles is also very useful (at least to me) – when I start Dindy at night, I set it to stop automatically in the morning.

    The reason I continue investing time in Dindy, and even developing features I don’t need myself, is because I enjoy getting good feedback from users. If you take a look at the reviews on the Play Store you’ll see some really nice things people say about Dindy, and I also got very nice emails from users telling me how it’s helping their day-to-day lives.

    Now, finally, for your requests: there’s some good news and bad news.
    The bad news is that I’m sorry to say that I doubt I’ll ever implement the things you were hoping to see in Dindy. The main reasons are that some of the things you asked for are not trvial to implement and that they will make the user interface cumbersome. Also, I don’t want Dindy to become one of those apps that run in the background all the time. Like I said before, Dindy was developed for me (or, more generally, for people like me) and I’m OK with having to press the widget button when I go into a meeting or before I go to sleep.

    But… and here’s the good news. You can still use Dindy and get all the features you wanted by combining it with an automation app like Tasker or Locale. In addition, Dindy can be controlled by any app that supports running shortcuts on demand (like AppAlarm Pro). I think this is the better way – keep Dindy simple and let the advanced stuff (like scheduling) be done by other apps, which already do it so much better than I could ever implement myself.

    Lastly, there is always the option of forking Dindy’s code and creating your own version that does what you want. I will also gladly accept contibutions to the open source project, as long as they don’t make the user interface too complicated. But I doubt this will ever happen with such a small user base.

    OK, this is way longer than I wanted to write ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you very much for reviewing and choosing Dindy. I hope you keep finding it useful.
    Amit (Dindy’s developer)

    • davemackey says:

      Amit – I really appreciate you taking the time to so fully answer my suggestions. Even with its current featureset, and if it never adds the additional features, it still does better what I care about than the other apps I mentioned. Just a few quick side notes:
      1. I’m going to donate to the project right now… ๐Ÿ™‚ It won’t be much, but at least I can say I’m supporting open source…which I try to do regularly.
      2. I’m going to work on making some Tasker automation scripts to implement the functionality I want as you suggested and then make those scripts freely available…in case others desire this same functionality.
      Dave ๐Ÿ™‚

      • gnobal says:

        Hey Dave

        Thank you very much for everything. Just writing about Dindy was more than enough and the donation is way way too much. Your offer to create Tasker scripts is a great idea (I only use Tasker to see that Dindy still works with it).

        I hope you’ll be able to make it – there’s a tricky part here: because profiles are different on every device, the user must select the profile they want to run with such a script, so it basically can’t be “one script fits all”. Also note that you have to use an exit condition that will stop Dindy at the end of the Tasker profile (also a little unusual).

        Please let me know if I can help in any way. If you make it I’ll link to it from the website, the Play Store and the app.

        Thank you very much again. I don’t have the words to say how much I appreciate this.
        Amit

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