How Apple’s New Focus Feature Will (Literally) Change Your Devices

Way more than just 'Do Not Disturb' on steroids

Key Takeaways

  • Focus offers fine-grained control over notifications on iOS 15 and macOS Monterey.
  • Focus status syncs across all your devices.
  • You can even hide entire home screens automatically.
Someone setting Focus mode on an iPhone X.

Unsplash / Mockup Photos

iOS 15 includes Focus, a beefed-up Do Not Disturb. It can hide home screens, switch on and off your schedule, sync across Apple devices, and work with Shortcuts.

Focus lets you customize who and what can grab your attention on your iPhone, iPad, and Mac. You can screen out contacts, apps, and notifications, and even hide or show different home screens, depending on the time of day, where you are, or what you are doing. And the most amazing part? It’s so simple to set up that you might actually do it. 

“iOS Focus is going to be a game-changer for our productivity and the way we manage our devices,” time management and goal-achievement mentor Alejandra Marqués told Lifewire via email. 

Do Not Disturb

Do Not Disturb (DnD) is a neat way to block all notifications and silence many alerts, and it changed the way we interact with our phones, giving us back control over our attention. 

Focus is a way to customize how iOS 15 and macOS Monterey block apps and other distractions. When you first set it up, Focus walks you through an old-school wizard-style process. The idea is that you can have several Focus scenes tailored for different purposes. Then, when you switch one on, it applies all your rules.

For each Focus scene, you can choose who is allowed to contact you, which apps can send alerts, and whether "time-sensitive" notifications are allowed (reminders, credit card payment alerts, etc.). You also can choose to share your status. This will tell your contacts that you are in Do Not Disturb mode and that their message will not be delivered right away. 

iOS 15 Focus
Image: Apple.

Apple

Finally—and most radically—you can enable and disable entire home screens. Thus, you could have a work home screen, an evening, and a weekend home screen. There’s no need to look at Slack on a Saturday, for example, or maybe you only want your read-later, chat, and TV/movie apps to show up in the evening. 

You can then schedule these various Focus scenes or let your device handle them with Smart Activation. This automatically turns the scene on based on "location, usage, and more."

This sounds complex, and it is. But Apple has made a simple job of getting set up. I put it off for a week because I wasn’t ready to give it the time it needed to be understood, but in the end, just diving in is easy and the app explains everything along the way.

"Nowadays, devices are our main distraction," says Marqués. "Social media, emails, phone calls, all of that is making people spend more than eight hours per day on a screen, and most of that time is not productive time, but scrolling and wasted time." 

You can still access all those distractions, but not having them in your face might help you control your impulses. 

Flexible Focus

The neatest thing about Focus is its flexibility. I’ve always been happy with Do Not Disturb’s all-or-nothing approach, but then I have my devices permanently muted and allow almost no apps to send me alerts. 

Screenshots of the Focus mode in iOS 15.

Apple

Now, you can use Focus as a finer-grained DnD, or you can just use parts of it. For example, instead of having folders to keep all your photo-editing or music-making apps tidy, you could have a Photo-Editing Focus scene, which shows only your perfectly laid-out custom photo-editing home screens when activated. 

You also can activate Focus scenes for just the next hour or until you leave a location. You could have home and away setups, for example. And Focus is even built into the Shortcuts automation system, making it even more powerful. You could switch on low-power mode and engage your chosen Focus scene whenever you leave home, for example.

The possibilities are almost endless, but the basic settings are solid and easy to manage.

"As technology continues to evolve, technologies are distracting us more and more," says Phil Crippen, CEO of John Adams IT. "As the CEO of a company with over 100 employees, I witness every day how much devices can distract people and impede their... well, 'focus.' In fact, I’m probably more excited for my employees to use Focus than they are to use it."

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