HOW to Setup and Use Focus Modes on iOS

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

In this podcast from his series looking at some of what's new and notable in iOS 15, Thomas Domville Shows us how to setup and use Focus modes.

Focus is essentially a supercharged upgrade of Do Not Disturb. This is how Apple describes Focus:

Focus helps you stay in the moment when you need to concentrate or step away. Choose a Focus that allows only the notifications you want — you can get work done while you’re in the zone or enjoy a distraction‑free dinner. Pick from a list of suggested Focus options or create your own.

What do you want to focus on? Choose a focus area to set up: Custom. Driving. Exercising. Gaming. Reading.

Stepping away is easier if others know you’re busy. So when you’re using Focus, your status will be automatically displayed in Messages. And for truly urgent messages, there’s still a way for people to notify you.

Key feature highlights of Focus are:

  • Allow notifications only from certain people and apps.
  • Time-sensitive notifications.
  • Presets: There are presets for different parts of your day: work, personal time, workouts, and more.
  • Dynamic home screen allows you to only show particular home screen pages when a Focus mode is enabled.
  • Cross-device sync.



Submitted by Jo Billard on Friday, September 17, 2021

Wow! It's all I was hoping for, and I'll sure be using it! I just have one question. What about that bug that was listed? This seems to be working just fine.

Submitted by Dawn 👩🏻‍🦯 on Friday, September 17, 2021

Hi, Thomas!

I've been anticipating this since I first heard of it in June! It's one thing I'll be getting use out of, for sure. ;I've been looking for something that would allow certain apps like Zoom, Teams and mail to send notifications when I'm in meetings with Hadley or Braille Institute or whatever. So, I'll be getting use out of this for sure.

That being said, I have 2 questions.

1. I have the same question as Joe. What about that bug that's mentioned in the bug report? Did you find a workaround, or is it just on a per device basis? I ask because I'm running an Ipad 7. So, if this is across all devices, or, just device-spicific then, I'd be curious to know.

2. Will this work with 3rd party apps? Because my family, friends and I use Fb. Messenger to stay in contact. My family and I use it all the time. So, I'm wondering, how will this work with 3rd party apps? Will it work with 3rd party apps like Messenger? Because, it'd be nice to have a way for family and friends to both know that I'm in a meeting at the moment, and, if it's an emergency, to be able to reach me if needed. Also, will it work with Mal if you have a Gmail account linked to it?
Could I set it up to do an auto-reply, or something that says something to the effect of:


I am currently busy right now, or something to that end, and I will get back to you as soon as possible. If it's urgent, you can get ahold of me by and then listing the ways you can still be reached with urgent messages.

Can't wait to start using this! Whenever I update, I will be heading to this first.
Also, can you set it up so that only certain folders show up? Because, I have several folders that I would like to see and apps, but not others. And yes, they're different home screens. Two are on the 1st one, and the other is on the second one.

Submitted by AnonyMouse on Friday, September 17, 2021

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

In reply to by Dawn 👩🏻‍🦯

Hi Everyone,

Great set of questions!

Let’s nail down the first question that Jo had. Yes, the bug is there and the darndest thing about doing a recording on beta software is that. At the time of that recording it did work as advertised and then the latest beta. It no longer works. Go figure! ;)

Good news is there is an easy workaround to this. The first process of adding people to your list will for whatever reason forget or doesn't stick. So when the step is completed. It doesn't say any of the people I added. However, When you have completed the process you can go back in and add toes people back to the list and this time it will stick and you will get the list of people that you want.

Second question will this work for any 3rd party apps. Yes! You can add any Apps you want. So if you want to use Messenger to start on a particular focus mode. You can do this with no issues.

Can you pick per apps instead of a particular Home Screen. No, you cannot do this. You would have to have a Home Screen of that consist only the apps that you want and choose this to only show for that mode.

Lastly, unfortunately you cannot customize how you want the end receiver to break through back to you while you are in a particular mode. They will only see the name of that mode that you’re in and given an option to send as an emergency. Now I know for works for the Message but I have not tried for Mail for say. Though my understanding is that 3rd party apps can implement this feature and how this would work. That is a great question as I have not seen an app taking advantage of this yet. If others have seen this please let me know as I would be very interested how that works.

- AnonyMouse

Submitted by Dawn 👩🏻‍🦯 on Friday, September 17, 2021

In reply to by AnonyMouse

Thank you!

That answered every thin! Although I might have to rethink how I organize my happs/home screen now. Because I've had folders for a couple years now. And, that served well for me.

I did see an update for Parcel that takes advantage of some of the features of focus mode. Such as time-sensitive notifications, and silencing other notifications while in a mode. How this will work I have no idea.

Yeah, that IS strange! And annoying if I do say so myself. :-) wink

Thank you for the workaround. I'll be taking this into consideration when deciding whether to update or not. I'm leaning towards no, mainly because of the sharesheet bug, and the bug where positions in folders are not announced, and the app switcher bug. I think there's 1 or 2 I'm forgetting, but, I can't be sure.

Submitted by Larry on Saturday, September 18, 2021

Hello, great pod! A tip about the option to hide and show home screens.

In iOs 15 you can add multiple icons of the same app on your home screens (although I am not sure if this works with all apps). For example, say I want to access Twitter both during my personal and work focus modes, but hide other apps depending on which focus I have activated. I can create a personal home screen with the apps I want, e.g with Safari, Messages, Twitter. I can then have another home screen with apps such as mail, Twitter, To Do etc. This way it is easy to only see the apps related to the specific focus. As shown in the pod you can then choose to hide home screens not related to the active focus :)

To add a second, third etc version of an app go to the ”App Library”, start edit mode, choose drag item and drop on the desired home screen.

Happy organising

Submitted by Clare Page on Saturday, September 18, 2021

Hi! I've been looking forward to the new focus modes in iOS 15 ever since I heard about them, and the podcast explaining them shows that this whole new focus thing is as good as I anticipated. However, it seems to me that Apple left one thing out in the options for allowing phone calls or messages, namely allowing them only from our contacts: that way, we can still be ccontacted by anyone we know, but no calls from unknown numbers can get through. This isn't a big worry, as I don't get a huge amount of phone calls and messages. However, I do have a question: if we don't limit calls and messages to certain people or our favourites, does that mean that all calls and messages will come through while we're in a focus mode? This wasn't clear from the podcast, not to me anyway.

Submitted by Jo Billard on Saturday, September 18, 2021

In reply to by AnonyMouse

Thanks for your response. Due to the easy workaround, I'm still planning to update. This is my third update and I have waited the previous two years, but this year I'm ready to go from day one, and a lot of that is due to focus.

Submitted by Jo Billard on Thursday, September 23, 2021

I'm having a problem. When my screen is locked or it just goes on autolock, focus mode turns off. I tested that with a friend who is not allowed in, and the call got through. I spent all afternoon with Apple and they weren't able to help me resolve the issue. They hadn't heard of it before, either. I just checked your podcast over again to confirm that I'd set it up correctly.

Submitted by Holger Fiallo on Thursday, September 23, 2021

When I was playing with focus and notification, I think I did something to my message. When the screen is lock, VO is not reading them. It does read other notifications but message. If I open screen or touch it VO reads the message. I know I got one due to Series 5 giving me a haptic. If I am not using the watch, VO does read it on the lock screen. Using 12 pro with iOS 15 and Series 5 with OS 8. I check notification and all the things that suppose to be on are on. Help. Going nuts.

Submitted by Kerry Fielding on Wednesday, October 27, 2021

So, I upgraded my iPad to iPadOS 15 when it came out, and was able to set up a focus with no issues at all. Now, I’ve upgraded my phone to 15.1 and I can’t seem to do it at all. It seems like something is broken.

I am trying to set up a focus called work that starts at 8 am on a weekday morning and finishes at 4 pm.

I can add the people I wish to receive calls from, but I can’t under any circumstances seem to change the time.

Am I doing something wrong? Thanks.

Submitted by Holger Fiallo on Wednesday, October 27, 2021

1 Whenever using AirPod pro with music and focus, Focus turn itself off when using AirPods.
2 When muting the phone, VO reads notification from those you allow in focus.
3 When using focus on music, bard mobile, if I go to home and keep listening to music or audiobook, focuss is turn off. IAre they bugs?