This app helps battle smartphone addiction

It keeps kids in school, too, which makes it stand out from similar apps

In Summary

• Samson Opaleye and Bolakale Mallick have developed a mobile app called Applatch

• It locks addictive apps, provides points for every completed locked session and helps fund child education

Screengrabs of different stages of the Applatch mobile app
Screengrabs of different stages of the Applatch mobile app

When law student James Olusola had difficulty studying for his exams because social media and streaming apps were a constant distraction, he came across an infographic that suggested he needed help. He was directed to an app that he now credits with getting through his exams.

It was a much-needed reprieve, because "everything about me is tied to my devices, and I needed help," he said.

Bolakale Mallick recalls a similar experience. Scrolling through posts, images and videos on social media was a harmless way to unwind. Little did he know that he had become addicted.

"I would mindlessly scroll through Instagram whenever I could find the time, and it was also what I engaged in to help me fall asleep," he said.

In 2021, Mallick had to go through therapy after coming to terms with the fact he was addicted to his smartphone and unable to function properly without it.

"My smartphone addiction got so bad, I had to quit work. I got therapy and engaged in dynamic neural retraining system for months. That was what helped me."

During this time, Mallick shared his challenges with social media addiction and declining mental health with his friend Samson Opaleye. Together, they devised a solution: a mobile application that locks addictive mobile apps.

Although they started as "accountability partners", each ensuring the other remained steadfast in their app locking choices, they also worked on building their app.

The result, released in December 2022, was the app that helped Olusola with his studies. Mallick and Opaleye had decided to call it Applatch.

Currently with over 30,000 users, the app encourages users to stick to their focus goals by ensuring they cannot access any of their locked apps except in the case of an emergency. A rewards programme provides incentives.

"Now I'm working full-time again besides what I do at Applatch, and I'm glad our app can help people prevent what I went through,"Mallick said.

The app also requires that users buddy up with an "accountability partner", who helps ensure the user remains committed to the app locks they have chosen for the session.

The only way to unlock the locked apps is by emailing the authorised accountability partner and a one-time password is then sent to the user. The user then gets only a 30-minute "emergency" session to access the locked apps. However, this feature can only be used three times during a session, without incurring a penalty.

"This discourages users from unlocking their apps wilfully," said Samson Opaleye, now CEO of Applatch.

"They will most likely have second thoughts when they've had to reach out to their accountability partner more than once for the password to unlock their apps. They begin to evaluate their choices. I was once in their shoes, so I know how it feels."

Users who use the app earn points. The longer they remain committed to the app, the more points they earn. These points are used to support the education of an African child at no cost to the user. Points are awarded for every completed locked session but are deducted if a session is paused.

What ultimately convinced Olusola to use Applatch was the social issue that the startup addresses. Despite the availability of similar apps, he says, the social cause and accountability feature of Applatch was what won him over.

"My favourite part of using it is that children get access to education because I use the app, which has instilled a form of discipline in my smartphone usage," the law student said.

"That was definitely an incentive for me to use it. Innovative solutions should solve problems. That's the essence."

Olusola is hardly alone in his appreciation of how the app addresses ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) concerns.

"During our survey, we noticed that most people were enthused about using Applatch because it was their way of helping these kids through school," he says.

"For them, the motivation went beyond stopping their smartphone addiction. I don't believe in doing things only for profit, which is why we sought out NGOs like 'Lend a Hand for Africa', collaborating with those that are passionate about giving back to society."

With more than 50 children being sponsored through school across different levels, Lend a Hand collaborates with individual donors and organisations to ensure free education for less privileged children.

Lend a Hand for Africa founder Abimbola Akinsanya says there are many initiatives, be they startups or social enterprises, that need a partner in the ESG space, and she was enthused to work with Applatch in the interests of helping more children attend school.

"Over the years, we've worked with several people and companies who are looking for ways to help but need guidance," Akinsanya said of her organisation, which has been active since 2014.

"We started with food drives but quickly realised there was so much to do."

Initiatives like Applatch offer entirely new ways to engage society and build a wider sense of responsibility.

"It's been wonderful collaborating with Applatch so far; they're currently sponsoring two of our children fully," Akisanya said.

She said altruism doesn't need to be grandiose to make a difference.

It can start from as little as engaging with a community or providing a small amount each month to a charity.

Or, ensuring you stay committed to locking your apps, conquering mental health issues and helping a child through school.

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