Set up and use focus modes on iOS 16

Focus mode is Apple’s way of helping users get the job done by filtering out the noise. It’s available in iOS and for iPads and Macs and can be a real productivity boost – if you know how to set it up properly.

This is how it works.

Find focus

Since iOS 15, Focus has appeared as an option in Control Centeror via Settings>Focus

In iOS 16, due out this fall, it can recommend relevant lock screens for the focus options you provide, such as a data-rich lock screen for work.

Apple has four suggested focus types:

  • Do not disturb
  • sleep
  • personal
  • Work

You can also create new focus groups, including those for driving, fitness, gaming, mindfulness, reading, and custom.

Apple (in iOS 16) does offer focus mode suggestions, consisting of what your device thinks are relevant apps and people within that focus, but you can edit, change, or create your own. Still, the best way to learn the principles of personalizing and managing Focus is to tap the Custom button.

Create a custom focus

Apple has bundled all the tools for creating Focus on one very busy page. To understand the controls on the page, let’s create a custom focus. To do this, open Settings>Focus and then select Amended. In the next screen you can give this a name and select a color and an icon for that Focus. Then tap Next.

You should now see a long page with the name and icon of your test focus at the top of the page. Sections on the page include:

  • Notifications.
  • Options.
  • Customize screens.
  • Automatically turn on.
  • Focus filters.
  • Remove focus.

Let’s look at each of these in turn.


In iOS 16, you can now choose which people and apps you want to continue to receive notifications from.

  • Tap People to choose who you want to allow and then tap the Add button to add another person.
  • Tap apps to select apps, tap Add to go through all your apps and (hardly) add them all.


You will see an Options button. Tap this and switches will appear for the following three ways to handle notifications while in the focus group you are creating:

  • Show on lock screen: This will cause muted notifications to appear on the lock screen instead of in Notification Center.
  • Dim lock screen: This setting dims the lock screen when Focus is on.
  • Hide notification badges: Notification badges are not displayed on app icons on the home screen for apps other than the apps you allow. In other words, the apps you want to use while in the Focus space will work normally, others will be suppressed until you leave the Focus.

These optional tools should help you build a Focus that works better for you.

Customize screens

This field allows you to choose a face on the lock screen or select a specific home page to minimize the distractions of what you are trying to do. Tap Choose Lock screenn to select an existing screen or create a new one in the Apple Lock Screen Gallery. You can also select a relevant home page.

Note: You can also associate a lock screen with a specific focus from the lock screen. Just hold down that screen, swipe to the specific screen you want to associate with a focus mode, tap the focus button and select the mode you want to use. Tap x when it’s done.

Auto power on

Focusing can be smart enough to turn itself on at a set time of day, when you arrive at a certain place, or when you first open a specific app. In this screen you control all these options. Apple can also use on-device intelligence to figure out when to turn on a focus using what Apple calls smart automation. You can have your iPhone automatically set to Work Focus when you arrive, or when you open a specific work-related app. You can also set your device to return to Personal Focus (no work apps allowed) when you get home.

Focus filters

Thanks to Apple’s new API, Focus Filters allow you to filter out distracting content in apps that support this feature, such as Apple apps like Calendar or Messages and some third-party apps. In Mail, for example, you can filter out all messages except those from the most essential contacts, or you can choose specific tab groups available in Safari in Work Focus. These are placed in the Focus Filters section, where you’ll find filters for Calendar, Mail, Messages, Safari, and Dark and Power Modes. It is expected that once iOS 16 is released, you will find similar filters available for some third-party apps.

How this works is pretty simple: tapping Calendar lets you select one or more of your calendars to display, or choose Mail to set which email accounts you want to receive messages from while you’re in a specific Focus. mode. Tap Add to create the Focus filter.

To delete a Focus filter you created but no longer need, tap through to the specific Focus management page, select the filter you want to delete, and tap Delete.

Remove focus

Tap to remove the current focus you’ve been working on, or any existing focus settings you no longer need.

What about third-party apps and Focus?

In Apple, Apple has introduced APIs that allow developers to link their apps to Apple’s Focus. We’ll probably see this first adopted by social and messaging apps, but it’s likely to gain wider adoption over time.

What about your other devices?

Yes, since iOS 15 it is possible to share your Focus settings on all your devices; iOS 16 extends this to iPads and Macs. To check if this is enabled on your iPhone, open Settings > Focus and make sure the Share across devices switch is turned on (green).

What about Swiping for Focus?

An interesting new feature in iOS 16 means your iPhone can act as if they were different devices, thanks to the introduction of multiple lock screen support. This allows you to swipe between different screens, each of which can have different functions or images and can be associated with different Focus types. You just need to touch and hold your lock screen to swipe between your different screens, each of which can contain different widgets.

Can you schedule Focus?

Yes. In addition to swiping between different Focus settings via the Lock Screen, it is possible to automate your Focus types; you may have a work focus that appears during work hours, or a research focus within that. You can also use Spotlight search to enable a Focus or switch to a new Focus. To do this, type the Focus name, tap the appropriate icon and your home and lock screens will change to match the Focus settings.

This quick guide should help you use Focus in iOS 16, but it should also help with iOS 15, as many of the features and tools described above are also available in that version of the operating system.

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Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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