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When you’re trying to focus, busywork isn’t going to help

Time was Apple gave you a big old ‘Do Not Disturb’ switch when you didn’t want your iPhone to be a distraction. It was a brute-force solution – effective, but lacking in nuance. Hence: Focus.

Introduced with iOS 15, the Focus system gives context to alerts. Apple bakes in a few Focus options, for activities like work, sleeping, and gaming. These can be shared between devices, meaning if you activate a Focus on your Mac, you won’t be bombarded with irrelevant notifications on your iPhone.

If Apple’s existing options don’t suit, you can create a custom Focus, outlining which people and apps can break through the notifications barrier, which Home Screen pages should be active, and during which times the Focus should run.

In iOS 16, Focus extends to the Lock Screen

During WWDC 2022, Apple revealed that Focus will expand further in iOS 16. Each Focus will have its own Lock Screen – and Lock Screen selection (or app usage) will be a way to activate a specific Focus. But it’s Focus filters that will arguably have the most impact, threading the concept throughout your devices.

As soon as iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and the latest macOS arrive, you’ll be able to set Focus boundaries within Calendar, Mail, Messages, and Safari. So outside of work hours, you will be able to hide your work email and calendar. When in work, you’ll have the means to limit Safari to specific tab groups. A new API for developers will allow app creators to bring similar functionality to their apps too.

In the abstract, this sounds meaningful. The notion of a set of devices that rework themselves in context, presenting only what you need at any given point, feels like the future. The problem is, we live in the present – and a concern has to be whether in trying to reach a point where you can be focused at all times, you’ll need to do plenty of ongoing busywork fine-tuning Focus to get there.

Focus will soon let you filter app content, such as emails, browser tabs and messages

To Apple’s credit, it recognizes this issue. It’s announced Made for Focus suggestions regarding the Lock Screen gallery, and Home Screen suggestions when you’re setting up a Focus. And an easier setup experience should smooth things when crafting personalized Focus experiences.

Time will tell whether this is enough. As it is, the greatly expanded Focus might turn out to be a great feature in theory, but in reality end up appealing only to the truly dedicated. The rest of us might have to wait a while, until Apple’s on-device AI is smart enough to serve up what we need to focus, without us even knowing it – and without us having to set up anything at all.

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