Apple's Focus: What does it do and how does it work?

Announced at WWDC, Apple's Focus app may be a useful tool for any remote worker attempting to get things done.

Apple, iPad, iPhone, Mac, Focus, iOS 15, iPad OS 15, macOS, Monterey, WWDC

Apple introduced Focus at this year's WWDC. This is likely to be a quite useful tool for any iPhone, iPad, or Mac user attempting to get things done, or trying to put some space between work and personal life.

What is Focus?

Focus is a nuanced version of Apple’s existing Do Not Disturb tool. It combines the ability to block out unwanted interruptions with contextual awareness and granular controls in a way that Apple hopes will help users remain focused on the tasks at hand.

The tool aims to help people disconnect from digital interruptions, such as work emails during the family meal, messages during a conference call, and all the other intrusions that squander our precious attention during daily life.

Focus is also smart. It uses on-device intelligence to suggest an appropriate Focus setting suitable to your context. When it does so, it will also suggest people and apps that are allowed to reach you once a focus is set.

What does Focus do?

The Focus mission is to optimize your Apple device to be useful wherever you are and whatever you are doing. So, when you are coding, you might need access to email, Xcode, FaceTime, and Safari; when reading, you might prefer no interruptions at all.

Focus also lets you curate customized pages of applications for use in different Focus states (Home, Work, Gym, Driving, etc.)

Does Focus understand time, location and events?

Yes. Focus is also responsive and will apply settings it thinks are appropriate in response to the time of day, on when you enter or leave a location, or to reflect events in your Calendar.

  • You might have a meeting Focus in which no interruptions are supported; they will automatically begin when you enter a meeting in your Calendar.
  • Your Home Focus may launch when you arrive at your house.
  • Or perhaps you have a Lunch Focus that enables Apple News.

Focus lets you customize how and when you want to receive notifications. You may choose to only be notified by family members, colleagues or via apps such as Mail or Slack.

How is Focus smart?

Since Focus is trying to help you separate your work time from personal time, you’ll be presented with different Focus options late at night than you might encounter during the day. In other words, Focus attempts to be smart enough to figure out what you are doing and to suggest appropriate notification and app settings for that use.

Focus will also automatically suggest groups of apps to include (or exclude) from a given focus.

What about Notifications?

Focus ties in well with Apple’s improved Notifications. These have been made easier to read than before and now feature contact photos and larger app icons so you can more swiftly seek those you are most interested in.

Apple has also created a new daily notifications summary that combines all your notifications together inside one intelligent view, with the most important items gathered at the top of the screen. This puts you in control of when you handle your notifications. Notifications also now have new classifications ranging from low to critical.

What about Do Not Disturb?

Apple has integrated Do Not Disturb into iMessage so others can see your status there. Focus is a more nuanced version of Do Not Disturb and also provides a status indicator in Messages to show others you are unavailable.

Where will we find it?

The new Focus settings will be available in System Preferences/Settings. Tap this to find Do Not Disturb alongside Sleep, Personal, Work and other Focus pre-sets, each of which can be adjusted by the user. You’ll also see a Share Across Devices toggle, which must be enabled if you want your current focus to proliferate across all your devices

What about urgent messages and apps?

You’ll still receive messages from those you have told the system you want to hear from. You can define people and apps you want to hear from in the Focus Status and Phone Call settings, which let you choose which apps and people can grab your attention no matter which Focus you have enabled.

What about time-sensitive notifications?

Inside each focus it's possible to choose which apps can send notifications when the Focus is turned on and the capacity to allow time-sensitive notifications, such as a message to let you know your delivery is about to arrive. I'd think this should be an option you can control in Control Center.

Do I have to set a Focus on every Apple device I use?

No. When Focus is set on one device, it automatically works across all your other devices, so long as they use the same iCloud ID.

What about developers?

Apple has made a couple of Focus-related APIs available — the Status and Time Sensitive APIs. Status lets third-party apps know if they are active in the current Focus, while the Time Sensitive API will deliver time-sensitive notifications and override your Focus settings to do so if required.

When will we get it?

Focus is part of iOS 15, iPadOS 15, watchOS 8 and macOS 12 and is expected to ship in Fall.

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Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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