Start-up Unpluq wants to beat smartphone addiction

To combat smartphone addiction, TU students Tim Smits (25) and Jorn Rigter (25) developed Unpluq, a physical barrier to digital distraction.

Tim Smits (left) and Jorn Rigter. (Photo: Chris Reichard)

You’re probably guilty of it: a WhatsApp notification pops up on your phone and before you know it you’ve replied to several messages, checked Facebook and read multiple news articles. Weren’t you supposed to be studying?

Just nine app logos, all in greyscale, appear on the screen when Tim Smits shows his phone. “These apps – that I chose – are the only ones I can access while my device is in Unpluq mode,” he says. “App notifications will be blocked while I’m unplugged so you won’t see them.’. To make all my apps available and to receive an overview of the notifications I’ve missed, I have to make the conscious decision to plug in the Unpluq key. It is yellow and relatively big, making my phone less nice and me very aware of my smartphone usage.”

‘I found it difficult to use my phone less’

“I really wanted to use my phone less and spend my time in a more meaningful way, but found it difficult,” explains co-founder Jorn Rigter. “It was hard not to be on social media for hours, because those platforms have been designed to get you hooked. We found that 58% of all people want to limit their smartphone usage.”

The Industrial Design & Computer Science student found existing solutions either too restricting or not restricting enough. “Minimalist phones are expensive and have a limited number of pre-selected apps which you don’t get to choose. Other apps either make your entire phone unavailable or are very easy to ignore or outsmart.” Unpluq’s software resembles the home screen of your Android phone, allowing users to switch between their fully functional smartphone when ‘plugged in’ and a distraction free device when ‘unplugged’. 

Unpluq can only be used on Android phones, significantly limiting the buyer’s market. Smits: “Worldwide 75% of people use Android. In Europe the division is more equal with half of our target audience – millennials – using iPhone. Unfortunately, Apple’s software does not allow Unpluq to work on iOS. The two students will soon learn whether there is a big enough market for their product as they plan to launch Unpluq via Kickstarter on 18 February. “Our goal is set at EUR 10,000, but we are hoping to get around EUR 50,000.” Smits and Rigter plan to deliver the first Unpluq keys in September, giving them a couple months to fine-tune their product.

  • Study: Industrial Design Engineering & Computer Science
  • Founders: Tim Smits (25) and Jorn Rigter (25)
  • Invested: EUR 2,500
  • Target group: Millennials
  • Price per product: EUR 18 (for the first 300 backers on Kickstarter)
  • In five years: Unpluq is a brand that helps people create a healthier relationship with technology.
  • Website:

Elise Mooijman / Freelance redacteur

Redacteur Redactie

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