iOS 15’s Focus Mode Is Way More Useful Than You Think

Transform your phone with one tap

Key Takeaways

  • Focus Mode lets you customize notifications, status, and even swap in a custom home screen.
  • It syncs across all your iOS 15 and macOS Monterey devices.
  • Focus Mode is super powerful, but confusing to set up.
A closeup of someone using the Focus app on iPhone.

Unsplash / Mockup Photos

Focus Mode lets you automatically change your home screen when you walk out the door, hide apps, and control notifications. So why aren't we all using it?

Focus Mode is probably the most powerful new feature in iOS 15 and macOS Monterey, but it hasn't caught on thanks to being both hard to explain and confusing to set up. At its simplest, Focus Mode is a way to create custom Do Not Disturb modes, but—as we shall see today—it goes way beyond that. And like Do Not Disturb, it changes the way you use your iPhone, iPad, or Mac.

"My favorite Focus Mode right now is my Kids mode, which I use whenever my kids want to borrow my phone. In this mode, I customized my pages to only show kid-friendly entertainment apps like Netflix, Youtube, and similar apps. Any work-related or sensitive apps are hidden, so my kids won't accidentally use them," business owner and iPhone Focus Mode fan Sherry Morgan told Lifewire via email.

Get Focused

To see what Focus Modes can do, let's look at some examples. We'll start with one that really pushes the limits but which results in something genuinely useful and time- and stress-saving. This is app-developer Matthew Bischoff's Travel Focus Mode.

My favorite productivity hack is to use Focus Mode while working to only allow notifications from certain people.

When Bischoff travels by air, their phone detects when they arrives at any of JFK, LaGuardia, or Toronto Pearson. Then, it automatically runs their Focus Mode, which does the following:

  • Only allows important notifications.
  • Switches to a custom home screen
  • Switches their Apple Watch to a custom watch face with icons to see the weather, sends a message to a loved one, and shows flight boarding information.

Bischoff's custom home screen is pretty clever. It displays widgets, including a clock with the time at their destination, weather (also at the destination city), a Find My widget showing the location of the AirTag in their suitcase, a Notes app widget to show their passport and COVID test details, etc., plus a widget for the Flighty flight-tracking app.

This example is great because it shows some of the most advanced features coming together to be very useful. Bischoff is clearly a nerd because only nerds take time to build something like this, partly for the challenge and partly because it will save a lot of time and hassle down the line.

But there are simpler ways to use it:

"My favorite productivity hack is to use Focus Mode while working to only allow notifications from certain people. This allows me to be in the loop for important things but not so in the loop that I get dizzy," entrepreneur Philip Pages told Lifewire via email.

Screenshots from the Focus app on iPhone.

Favorite Focuses

One of the most powerful uses of Focus Mode is its ability to hide and show home screens. For example, you could have a non-work home screen that switches on in the evening and doesn’t contain any work-related apps, like email, Slack, and so on. Combine this with Focus’s ability to only allow notifications from certain people, and your phone becomes a safe, work-free zone. There’s no chance of seeing something from the boss in the middle of dinner.

Focus Modes can be triggered by app launches, too. For example, if you open the Netflix app on your iPad, you could have it set a plain Do Not Disturb Focus Mode, but also set screen brightness to 75%, and connect to an AirPlay speaker. These tricks are possible thanks to integration with Shortcuts. Shortcuts can detect and activate Focus Modes.

I also have a Focus Mode, which triggers when I leave the house, and shows a home screen with music and podcast widgets, the local vaccination-status app, the metro ticketing app, and a Maps widget.

The problem is, digging into the Focus Modes section of the Settings app is confusing at best, and if you want to trigger a mode in any way other than by time, you also need to dig into Shortcuts’ automations. That’s cool for power users—look at Bischoff’s opus—but makes it inaccessible for regular users.

Despite that, it’s well worth digging in. Start slow, and go from there.

Correction 7/13/2022 - Updated Matthew Bischoff's pronouns in paragraphs 5, 6, and 7.

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