When Apple showed off iOS 15 at WWDC, I was originally a little underwhelmed since I didn't get a lot of the features that I was hoping for, such as more customization and food tracking in the Health app. However, I've been using the developer beta for a few weeks now, and I've grown to appreciate iOS 15 for what it is — a solid refinement of iOS. After all, we can't have a major new release with huge new features every year.
One of the best new features of iOS 15, in my opinion, is the brand new Focus. This is basically a souped-up version of Do Not Disturb, and honestly, it wasn't something I knew I needed on my best iPhone and iPad until I tried it out. Here's why I love the Focus feature.
You have complete control
I get it — Focus won't be for everyone. If you absolutely do not care about it, then more power to you. No one is forcing you to use it. But it is a new feature that gives you even more control over your device, which I have absolutely loved so far.
With a Focus, the best way to put it is to think of it as an enhanced Do Not Disturb mode. With Do Not Disturb, it's a blanket mode that pretty much blocks out all notifications from people and apps unless you get a phone call from contacts marked as Favorites. While this should work, you also may miss important messages and notifications, especially for things like work. You can schedule it to come on automatically, or you can enable it manually. Apple also introduced some spin-off modes of Do Not Disturb, with Sleep and Do Not Disturb While Driving.
But Focus takes Do Not Disturb to an entirely new level, and the best part is that it is fully customizable — you tailor it to your needs and wants. You have a say in which contacts and apps can get through a Focus, and time-sensitive notifications that require your immediate attention (calendar alerts, for example) are also exempt. A Focus can always be enabled manually, but you can also set a Focus to turn on automatically through Smart Activation or Automations — it's up to you. The Smart Activation option uses on-device intelligence to determine if it is an opportune time to enable a certain focus (i.e., Work), and Automations can be set up based on certain times, locations, or even when a specific app launches.
Another bonus of Focus is that you also have control over which Home screen pages are active while a Focus is on, and you can choose to show silenced notifications on the Lock Screen if you want. While this isn't quite what I was hoping for in terms of customization, having custom Focus Home screens actually does open up another layer of personalization for certain situations.
I think the most obvious use case for a Focus is definitely work. For example, I have set up my Work Focus to block out all notifications except from my spouse and my coworkers. I also only allow app notifications from apps that are related to work, which are basically Slack, Spark for email, Fantastical for calendars, Things for tasks, Notes, and a few others. I am often distracted by dumb social media, so my Work Home screen only has the apps that I may need to access, with zero distractions.
However, Focus is definitely not just for work. With the ability to create custom Focuses and even set them to activate once certain conditions are met, the possibilities are pretty much infinite. For example, I have set up another one for Gaming that activates whenever I connect to a wireless controller, and I block out all notifications from people and apps, with only time-sensitive notifications coming through. That's because when I'm gaming on my iPhone or iPad, I don't want to be bothered with banners and alerts that can disrupt my gameplay unless it's of absolute importance (time-sensitive). I have another one for Entertainment, which is basically when I want to binge-watch something, and I only allow notifications from my spouse and only my video streaming apps and time-sensitive alerts.
But the magic with Focus is that you can create a Focus for pretty much whatever you want. The ones that I have discussed here are just a sample of what you can create with the Focus feature. If you want to create a Focus just for the news, reading, social media, fitness, personal, or whatever else, you can do so and personalize it to suit your needs. This is also a great feature for those who have kids or often let others use the phone for brief amounts of time. There's a lot of flexibility, and just having the option to display certain Home screen arrangements for a Focus is just icing on the cake.
While a step in the right direction, it's not perfect
As much as I love the Focus feature as it is right now, there is always room for improvement. During my time with Focus, I noticed a big flaw with how it handles things.
Basically, even if you set a custom Home screen for a Focus to eliminate distractions, you can still easily access Siri Spotlight Search and the App Library like normal. So while I created a Work Focus to eliminate distractions, I can easily look up my Twitter or Facebook app and get around that. Or if you create a Focus to use just for handing off to someone else, like your child for some entertainment or games, the other person can still swipe to the App Library or pull up search and type away. I think there should be a way to disable both Siri Spotlight Search and App Library for specific Focus modes, or at least require a passcode or Touch ID/Face ID scan.
This may not be a big deal for some, but it's really the only loophole around using a Focus to be free of distractions. Of course, you could always use self-control, but that's not the case when it comes to handing your device off to someone else or a child who wants to play. Hopefully, Apple implements some way to disable Spotlight and App Library while Focus is active. After all, we're still in the beta stages.
Have you been using Focus in the iOS 15 developer or public beta? What do you think of it? How have you been using it in your daily workflow? Let us know in the comments!
Christine Romero-Chan has been writing about technology, specifically Apple, for over a decade at a variety of websites. She is currently the iMore lead on all things iPhone, and has been using Apple’s smartphone since the original iPhone back in 2007. While her main speciality is the iPhone, she also covers Apple Watch, iPad, and Mac when needed.
When she isn’t writing about Apple, Christine can often be found at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, as she is a passholder and obsessed with all things Disney, especially Star Wars. Christine also enjoys coffee, food, photography, mechanical keyboards, and spending as much time with her new daughter as possible.
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