Can this mindful distraction-blocker really make you more productive?
Developer: Opal OS
Price: $60/£59 yearly
Size: 152 MB
Platform: iPhone & iPad
Opal has some pretty unique ways to help you break free of a screen addiction, whether you want to be free of digital distraction during work hours or just want to spend less time on Instagram and more time engaging with the real world.
The app says it can help you “save time and focus each day,” and you can even set up schedules for certain times you want Opal to take over. But how does it actually work?
Opal uses Apple’s local VPN technology to monitor and disconnect specific services to block access. Exactly which apps or websites it will block, and when, is completely up to you. It’s a clever system and it works remarkably well.
From a privacy standpoint, it’s smart, too – Opal promises that all of your browsing data remains on your device, not on its servers somewhere.
After downloading Opal and setting up the VPN, you’ll be asked a series of questions about areas you’d like to improve and details of your current screen usage. They’ll then calculate and reveal your digital health score – rated out of 100, with 90+ considered healthy. You’ll then be recommended a suitable schedule as the first step towards your selected goal.
Apple’s own Screen Time tracks this stuff, of course, but the addition of goals and ratings makes Opal feel more purposeful and directed.
You can create infinite schedules, and select specific days of the week for each to be active. You choose how long each scheduled session will last, and when it’ll start and finish – Opal also offers many “Quick Ideas” to get you started. You can customize the name and emoji of each schedule.
You can block distractions by category, select individual apps or websites to shut out, or go nuclear and block all internet access. When setting up a schedule, you can even enable something called “Deep Focus”, which doesn’t let you change your mind and unblock things before the timer’s up. Be warned: you really can’t exit a Deep Focus session without deleting the app entirely.
During a scheduled session you’ll be met with Opal’s mascot in a subtly animated and calming scene. It’s sweet, and there are a few different options for tranquil settings and facial expressions to customize the little guy. If you don’t have Deep Focus on, you’ll be able to use blocked apps for a limited time – 10 minutes is the default, which you can amend each break.
Opal will prompt you to set an intention whenever you take a break, forcing you to hold yourself accountable. It’s a nice nod to flexibility while ensuring you act with purpose.
Although the app has no true gamification to it (à la Duolingo,) the more distractions you block, and the frequency at which you do so, improves your overall health score. Boosting this score is one goal, but the genuine benefits you’ll reap from spending less time staring at your phone screen should hopefully feel like reward enough.
Tapping on the Learn icon at the bottom of the screen, you’ll access a bunch of educational short-form stories about digital wellness, along with a selection of Focus time presets designed to help you study better, hang out better, or do something else in the real world.
These additional features are geared towards putting you into a more mindful mindset, and if you really buy into the philosophies here you should end up finding the distraction-blockers more helpful as a result.
Something we did find annoying about Opal, however, is its pricing. A VPN-based app like this is always going to cost money, and that’s not an issue in itself – but beyond a one-week free trial to test the waters, Opal only offers annual subscriptions for around $60/£60. While that may very well be worth it for the productivity gains you’ll make, the exclusion of a monthly payment option is slightly baffling and may put some users off.
Meanwhile, although it won’t give you such an elegant, all-inclusive experience as Opal, it’s hard to forget that Apple’s Screen Time is entirely free and can do many of the same things, like tracking usage and blocking apps at certain times. It certainly can’t match anything like Opal’s Deep Focus, though, so if you need to put yourself on a shorter leash, or you feel you’ve outgrown Screen Time, we’d heartily recommend Opal as your next step – but it’s worth considering both options and how they’d fit into your workflow.