Apple’s new Focus feature is an unfocused mess

Apple’s new “Focus” productivity tool for iPhones and iPads is intended to limit distractions by letting you specify when you want to turn off notifications from certain apps and contacts. The problem is it’s not especially intuitive and, since its arrival, people are missing important notifications.

Focus is intended to help users filter notifications to reduce distractions, using a custom Focus or a suggested Focus like Work or Sleep.
Focus is intended to help users filter notifications to reduce distractions, using a custom Focus or a suggested Focus like Work or Sleep.

Rani Molla for Vox:

Since Apple began rolling out the feature to iPhone users in September, many people have missed work calls, home repair visits, and doctor appointments. Social media is full of confused people wondering why they weren’t notified of calls and why it seems as though everyone’s messages are silenced.

In an effort to help people avoid distractions, Apple has created new ones for some.

The feature was introduced as part of Apple’s new operating system last fall, though it has taken months for it to roll out widely to most iPhone users. And how it rolled out is part of the problem. When you did finally update your iOS software — or you remembered to leave your phone plugged in at night so it could automatically update — all you saw was a quick notification telling you that the tool existed and offering to show you what it does. That’s the type of notification that busy, harried people — precisely those who might need the feature in the first place — quickly swipe out of the way and plan to get to later, someday. When some of them finally did remember to use the feature, they might not completely understand what it does…

Mere mortals don’t stand much of a chance, especially since the setup is lengthy and nonintuitive.

That’s because turning on Focus turns off all your notifications from people and apps you don’t specifically add, rather than just the specific people and apps [from which] you’d like to mute notifications… How could you anticipate that you’d want to add, say, your exterminator as a contact you’d want to get through to you even while your Focus mode is on? Or maybe you didn’t realize putting on “do not disturb” also meant shutting off something as important as calendar notifications. Finally, by default, the feature tells others you’ve silenced notifications — an announcement not everyone would assume you’re signed up for.

MacDailyNews Take: So, yes, Focus is unfocused, currently. It should be labeled a “beta” feature since we are all beta testers of it now and it’s failing to help users more than it’s helping in many cases.

We understand what Apple’s shooting for here, but it’s too much work for average users to set up and Apple has failed to explain what the heck is going on, so that average users aren’t missing important notifications when they think they’re “focusing.”

If Focus were labeled “beta,” the teething phase would be more palatable. Apple is on the right road here, but the company is a long way from having the “Focus” feature ready for the average user.

More info, via Apple Support, about how to use Focus on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch here.

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14 Comments

  1. I agree. Focus Mode was unnecessarily complicated. For a new feature like this? Baby steps. Give users time to transition to it over multiple releases. I ended up turning it all off except Sleep Mode.

    Apple had a VP on the other day, Dr (I forget her name), seemed like a nice lady and well versed in medicine. She mentioned Focus mode as a health feature her department had worked on. That’s good but Apple is famous in regard to the User Interface team holding massive sway in feature roll out. If it doesn’t pass UI’s easy to use test, it doesn’t roll out. They fell down on this one.

    1. You are a developer? You can’t figure out Focus mode? You haven’t thought to delete the extra Focus modes that YOU added beyond Sleep and DND modes? Good luck with your chosen profession…

  2. I just miss good old do not disturb. At least give me the option to get notification drop downs when my phone is unlocked like it used to. I used to live in DND and yet I would never miss a text. Not I am constantly pulling the notification view down to check stuff.

    1. More and more, “I just miss good old” IT JUST WORKS.

      Long ago son, there was this company with a simple motto that almost perfectly encapsulated their products. Then one day….

    2. Hint, Focus Mode defaults to old school ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode until you add new Focus modes. Don’t like the new Focus modes that you added? Delete them and your iPhone goes back to the old ways.

  3. Another botched launch from Pipeline? I am shocked!!

    When will shareholders wake up and send Pipeline packing? The man has been absolutely terrible for Apple. Remember “It just works”? Yeah, me neither. All thanks to Pipeline.

    FIRE Tim Cook!

  4. Like many of the advanced features of iOS, Focus mode is progressive. It only adds new functionality when YOU tell it to. If YOU don’t mess with it, your iPhone works that same as it always has.

    So, if YOU screw up your phone by going hog wild with an advanced feature that YOU don’t understand and haven’t bothered to figure out, how does that make the feature a bad one?

    1. Here’s an idea: If Apple included a proper full manual with its products and real help menus in its OSes and apps instead of merely a weak little “Tips” app on the iPhone and a practically useless “help” discussion forum on the Apple website, then more users would be confident how to properly understand & operate the increasingly complicated nuances that Apple adds, but doesn’t explain. The advent of touchscreens seems to have brought buried sandwich menus where everything gets hidden, and changes are not easy to access or for the casual user to find.

      Focus is a hamfisted way of reducing notifications overload. Apple still needs to figure this out. Notifications has been a longstanding problem for years. Apple never implemented good notifications or calendar management. Everything to do with reminders and notifications could be much easier and intuitive. iOS feels like nonstop clicking and swiping to do any simple task (or worse, pretend Siri could cut the mustard). They miss the mark a lot these days; they are obviously chasing after Android and social app features more than properly refining what they already have. I guess the brain trust at Apple isn’t interested in making apps self-explanatory, intuitive, and quick to use WITH REAL HELP MENUS anymore.

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