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Tech Matters: All about iOS 15 Focus modes

By Leslie Meredith - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Oct 20, 2021

Leslie Meredith

For those who have updated their iPhones to iOS 15, there is a new feature available to you that can help you focus — or in today’s jargon, live in the moment. The irony is your phone is likely the source of many of your distractions with its unending stream of alerts, rings and reminders, prompting us to worry about the future or ruminate over the past. But with Apple’s new operating system, you can control the interruptions based on where you are and what you’re doing.

You’ll find the tools in a new app called Focus that’s built into iOS 15 and builds on the familiar Do Not Disturb mode. We’ll walk through the setup for the main Focus areas: Do Not Disturb, Sleep, Personal and Work. You’ll find the setup is similar for the five additional modes of Driving, Fitness, Gaming, Mindfulness and Reading, with some options designed for the particular activities. You can initiate them all or use only the ones that fit your lifestyle. Once you’ve set up your personalized Focus periods, you can look forward to a calmer, more productive daily routine.

The new Focus button is in the Control Center. Swipe up from the bottom of the screen to bring up the Control Center. Tap on Focus to open its start screen. This is where you can manually turn modes off and on. You’ll also have the option to specify some details by tapping the three dots in each button. For instance, the three dots under Do Not Disturb open a menu that lets you choose how long you’d like to be left undisturbed by your phone: for an hour, until this evening or until I leave this location. You can see that your phone can access not only the passage of time but your location as well to determine when to lift the set restrictions.

To set up Focus, open Settings and tap on Focus. Here you’ll see the list of the four most popular modes: Do Not Disturb, Sleep, Personal and Work. Tap the plus sign in the upper right corner to show additional activities, which includes a custom mode that you can use for any activity you do regularly that may require some extra personalization. Here you can toggle on the sync to other Apple devices such as an iWatch that you might use.

Starting with Do Not Disturb, you can toggle it on or off at the top of the screen, which is a common function across all modes. Next you can specify which people and apps you’ll allow when you’ve turned on Do Not Disturb. You will select people from your contacts list and apps from a similar alphabetical directory. You can also allow “time sensitive” alerts from apps that use this feature. Unfortunately, it is the app developer that determines the status of a notification, not you. This is a new feature introduced with iOS 15, so it may take some experimentation on your part to see if you want to allow them or not. If you keep the default setting, no texts, calls or notifications will come through until you’ve turned off this mode.

You can also set a schedule for Do Not Disturb and specify a time period as well as one or more days per week. In addition to time, you can add an automation based on your location or when you open a specified app.

Sleep has the same on-off and filters for people and apps, with the addition of a wind down period as well as an alarm that you can vary by day of the week. You can also set a sleep goal to track your sleep via the Health app as well as see recommended bedtimes and wake-up alarms.

Personal Focus gives you the opportunity to filter by people and apps that are allowed to interrupt your personal time. When you set this up, you’ll see a list of frequent contacts and apps you use that you can just tap to remove from these lists. Note you can automatically allow a second call within three minutes from the same person to come through. The set up for Work is the same as Personal, but you undoubtedly will have a few differences in allowed people and apps.

It’s worthwhile to note your phone can detect when you’re driving, so you can set Driving Focus to automatic. Your contacts marked as favorites will receive an auto-reply to texts that lets them know you’re on the road. The automation built into Focus is a big step forward, allowing you to better control disruptions, while leaving the decision-making up to you.

Leslie Meredith has been writing about technology for more than a decade. As a mom of four, value, usefulness and online safety take priority. Have a question? Email Leslie at asklesliemeredith@gmail.com.

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