A quick scan of the updates included in iOS 15 is rather uninspiring.
There are upgrades to FaceTime that include the ability to share content, listen to participants in spatial audio, and enjoy some spookily Zoom-like features. There’s also the usual updates to iMessage (which I’ll barely experience due to the UK’s obsession with WhatsApp).
Oh, and they’ve done some stuff to Maps. Again.
But buried within that list of iOS 15 headline features is something called ‘Focus’. And it’s probably my favourite new feature.
What is Focus in iOS 15?
“Focus helps you stay in the moment when you need to concentrate or step away,” explains Apple.
In non-copywriter speak, that simply means that you can create a bunch of one-tap modes for your iPhone that change how it deals with notifications. These modes can also change the Lock Screen’s appearance and even force your phone to display a particular Home Screen page.
Focus modes can be turned on manually by pulling down control centre (on both your iPhone and Apple Watch), or scheduled to come on at specific times of the day. If you want to get really clever, you can also create automations that automatically switch focus modes (for instance, if you arrive home or start a workout).
iOS can be smart about it too, by learning when you’re most likely to need a particular focus mode with the ‘Smart Activation’ feature.
It’s an incredibly well-thought through feature and deeply functional once you start diving in. It syncs across all of your devices, too, therefore when you switch to a new focus mode on, say, your iPhone, it’ll nudge your iPad and Mac (once Monterey is released) into the same state.
Here’s how I’ve set up mine.
Do Not Disturb
iOS 15 comes with a few default focus modes, and I’ve retained most of them. Because, why not?
Do Not Disturb is the most useful, in my book, but I’ve tweaked it slightly. I only allow my closest family members to contact me if needed, app notification icons are hidden (there’s no temptation then, you see), and absolutely no app notifications are allowed through.
I’ve also forced it to only show a Home Screen page that features my device battery percentages and a big Apple Music widget.
This is my meeting mode and get stuff done mode, and ideal for the times when I want to shut the digital world off completely.
There’s nothing more off-putting that your phone constantly lighting up or buzzing while filming a YouTube video.
That’s why my Filming focus mode is the most brutal. It allows no one through, zero app notifications, and dims the Lock Screen.
It practically turns the phone off (which might be more appropriate, to be fair). The fact that it syncs this status across devices has delivered a measurable shortcut for my pre-shoot routine, too.
I love this focus mode.
Fitness is incredibly important to me. A run, followed by a bout of attempting to lift weights that are too heavy for me, really sorts my head out and, crucially, keeps me healthy.
I therefore never want that time to be disturbed by anything insignificant. So, when this mode is flicked on, the only person allowed through is my girlfriend, and the only apps that can notify me are Fitness, Health, Music, Spotify, and Timers.
The Home Screen switches to the aforementioned batteries/Apple Music widget combo, and the Lock Screen is dimmed.
I’ve even gone all fancy and added some automation. The Fitness focus mode automatically switches itself on when I start a workout, and does the same when I reach my gym’s location.
When I want to switch off from work stuff, this is a god send.
Ok, there’s one exception to the rule. When I say ‘work’ stuff, I’m referring to my regular, contracted work – not this side of my business (which never feels like work).
My Personal focus mode allows family notifications, WhatsApp, and a bunch of other non-work related apps. That’s it.
What a great way to switch off. Properly.
I love the fact that the Sleep focus mode links to the Sleep schedule in the Health app.
Once you’ve created your Sleep schedule, the Sleep focus mode can be set to automatically turn on ‘Wind Down’, which informs you at a particular time of the evening that it’s time to start chilling the hell out.
With Sleep turned on, my phone is, essentially, turned off. As it should be. The only thing allowed through is calls from my Favourite list, just in case of an emergency.
I need to play more with this particular focus mode, but I’ve designed it to remove all app notifications bar those that are related to the day job.
Only my girlfriend gets to text me, but everyone can call me (that might change). I’m also experimenting with different Home Screen setups featuring apps and widgets that are solely related to work.
This particular focus mode is at its most useful on the iPad, due to the wonderful new widgets in iPadOS 15, but it’s nice to have it available across all devices when I really need to knuckle down.
The only issue I’ve found with focus modes relates to my forgetfulness. I’ll often be halfway through a meeting and realise I’ve not switched modes; but, then, I guess that’s why the automation exists.
Regardless, I hope my focus modes give you some inspiration for yours. I’ll keep playing!