Apple’s New Focus Feature May Be Overkill

I would have been much happier if they’d kept the default of DND on or off, with the possible exception of Sleep Mode and DND while driving. Like most, I find the various Focus options royally confusing and not always applicable in our COVID work-from-home world.
Another poster was spot on. Apple triumphs when things are simple. Focus is not. Oopsy!

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I feel that Focus (and Do Not Disturb before it) are at best band-aids over the much larger problem of Notification overload, which is entirely of Apple’s making thanks to the way Notifications were originally implemented: either totally on or totally off, no middle ground options. Given that you can’t be 100% sure how many notifications you’re going to end up with for any given application, this is a serious issue. I ended up going through all the Notification settings and turning them off entirely for some applications, the majority just to the Notification area, and only a few apps able to interrupt me.

I suspect that if Apple did attempt to tackle this hairball, they’d get even more kickback from developers than they did with the introduction of tracking controls, such is the power of Notifications.


That’s what I ended up doing too. There are very few apps that really need to be able to interrupt/disturb me.

I completely agree.

When notifications were first introduced, it was a terrible sin for apps to notify you unnecessarily or God forbid, use the notification system to send you an advertisement. Every developer was really careful. Eventually that went away and now I’ve had to disable notifications on so many apps because it’s basically a new system for spam. (My rule is an app gets one freebie: if I get a 2nd spam via notifications, they get turned off for that app.)

The problem I have now is there are many apps where the notification is critical. For instance, I have wifi security cameras that notify me if there’s someone in my driveway or at the front door – I have to keep notifications on or they’re rather pointless. Yet the camera company now sends me a notification whenever they have a sale or a new product: “Hey, buy our new robot vacuum!”

What can I do about this? I’m stuck in their ecosystem (dozens of cameras and products), disabling the notifications isn’t an option, and yet I get crappy unneeded, annoying notifications. Grrr.

What Apple should have done is enable a simple two-tier of notifications: urgent and non-urgent. Urgent would be the former (package delivery) and ads and other stuff the latter. The viewing of these could be completely different: urgent would show up on your lock screen and buzz your watch, while non-urgent stay in a queue you look at later, like checking your email.

It would still require trust that developers actually use the notifications correctly, but at least it would be simpler for the user than the mess that is Focus.

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Most of the apps I use have no need for notifications. And many of those where I want them (e.g. a reminder that it’s my turn in some game) don’t require any kind of alert - so I configure them to display a badge and disable all the other mechanisms.

This works pretty well for me. For the 50-ish apps I have installed, they break-down to:

  • 21 have notifications completely turned off
  • 16 notify with sound
  • 28 notify with a badge
  • 17 notify with a banner

(These add up to more than 50 because some apps use multiple notification types).

Since I keep all of my apps on one screen (using folders), I see the badges whenever they appear, so I really don’t need the other types of notifications.

I reserve sound for those apps where I want to be alerted when the screen is locked (e.g. Messages, Phone, Calendar, Reminders, my banking apps).

I reserve banners for those apps where I want to see a popup while I’m using another app. These generally align with those that are allowed to notify with sound, plus one that doesn’t support badges (which I would prefer to use instead).

The problem is that sleazy app developers sill simply tag their advertising alerts as urgent.

Isn’t that the intention of apps being able to designate notifications as time-sensitive?


Possibly. But that feature is completely useless the way it has been implemented. Near as I can tell it’s on an app-level, so I get questioned as to whether or not my doctor appt reminder on my calendar is time-sensitive (it is), but then non-time sensitive stuff on my calendar are also allowed to break through Focus. (I finally disabled Focus to stop the nagging.)

Then they lose their right to send notifications or get kicked out of the App Store.

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I suppose that adding the ability to designate calendar events as time-sensitive or not (via the event options) would meet your objections. Even better would be the ability to designate each individual alert as time-sensitive or not.

It took me at least a month to wrestle the new capabilities to the ground before I could get back to the old simple overnight Do Not Disturb feature. Who wants the complexity of managing multiple Focus modes? I would think more thought cycles would go into the user designing and managing their various modes than are saved by the custom modes. Also for me Focus randomly turned itself on about a week back so I missed an important call (fortunately noticed not long afterward). So, fingers crossed I’ve managed to get things working again.


Related to Focus > Sleep (on iOS 15.1), I tried to set up a new wake time using the alarm clock last night. It’s ridiculously complex with the alarm clock sending you to the Health app first, where you have to go through multiple steps. I wonder what, sorry, idiot came up with that.

In fact, I was trying to set up the alarm clock for my 85-year old mom. I cannot fathom that anyone at this age either can or wants to set up their alarm clock by going through half a dozen steps.

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Hmm. I just go to the clock app, choose alarm, ignore the “Sleep/Wake up setup”, hit the plus sign upper right and set it. No need to fuss with Focus. But maybe that is because I already had one alarm setting from way back.

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Yes, that’s true unless you use the “Set up” button under “Sleep / Wake up”. At best, that’s confusing.

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I’ve never used the iPhone alarm before – and your answer piqued my curiosity. My first intuition would have been the Setup which takes you to Health. Your answer of adding via the “+” is simpler but not intuitive.

Well I’d say it’s intuitive in that this has been the way it’s been since forever on iPhone. All the Focus and Health bloat has been introduced only much more recently.

The clock app and this way to set up your alarm is how I’ve been doing it since I got my 3G in 2008. My alarm time changes from day to day so I always set up things manually. The only change I took up into my workflow is that for a couple years now there’s been an alarm clock shortcut for control center.

I do use sleep focus myself, but never set an alarm with it. If I need an alarm (I rarely do), I just set it separately in the clock app. (Well, I usually use my watch for alarms, but the same deal.)

Apple is suggesting we use a different hammer for each nail.

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I love the Focus system. Bottom line for me is given that the basic ‘switches’ are still there, as Adam says, like DND etc, I’m not sure how / why one should complain that it’s overkill to provide more options for those who want them. If you don’t want them, don’t use them.

Before the new (current) focus sytem, I used DND on a timer basis for sleep, turning on at 10 p.m. and off at 8 a.m. while allowing ‘favourites’. But I wanted ‘more’. In trying to come up with a way of dealing with an ongoing plague of spam SMS texts (and I made a whole Tidbits Talk thread on that a week or so ago) I built a focus that silences SMS texts from anyone not in my contacts list, though I still see the badges. It works great (better would be of course stopping the spam.)

Anyway, bottom line is I didn’t find the focus set-up particularly difficult, and appreciated that it is so flexible in terms of fine-tuneability while still offering the simple DND and Sleep etc. focii.

So…yeah, love it, and don’t think it’s overkill.


A friend’s iMessage was telling me they were not receiving messages at this time (Focus was on, and friend had no idea- it enabled when upgrade to iOS15). I spent hours researching and trying to explain to him how Focus was on, and how to tame it (now sending him link to THIS great TidBit!). I went into mine and accidentally DND everyone for a whole day. I missed some important calls, and texts. I was like, “what idiot thought this is what we need, and easily on but not easily off?”
I think most don’t need these. I think that some active, popular and busy folks, that love to micromanage their lives, their time, and their friends/contacts must find this awesome. In a nutshell, it reminds me of having to be an assistant, a scheduler, an event manager and then selectively apply your scheduling in rank to whom gets through, and who doesn’t.
I like the DND while driving. But found I was driving to get coffee on a remote work from home day, and my director emailed me, “why am I driving?”. They sent a text and was told I don’t text while driving.
Ofcourse, I followed up, I was out getting :coffee: and stuck behind a :bus:… which I was actually.

I just wish Apple would have a feature that is off by default, and easily explains what it does, what it can do, and not just enable it all on surreptitiously.

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You can delete the pre-packaged focuses, but first you have to go through the process of setting each one up, screen after screen. Once you’ve done that you can go back to settings>focus and tap each one in turn, scroll down and you’ll find an option at the bottom to delete that focus. Possibly the least intuitive thing I’ve found on an apple device, but it works. My phone now has DND and none of the other clutter.


Airplane mode might do it, unless you’re on Wi-Fi where you are. And then you could turn Wi-Fi off too.