Apple’s new iPhone Focus tool causes missed notifications

Apple's new iPhone Focus tool causes missed notifications

You’re trying to focus on work, so you should see notifications from Slack, but not from, say, your mom and Facebook. But what if the plumber who’s supposed to fix your sink tries to call, or if your mom really has an emergency and doesn’t just send you a blurry picture of her new shower curtain?

Apple’s new productivity tool for iPhone, Focus, is intended to limit distractions by letting you specify when you want to turn off notifications from certain apps and contacts. The problem is that it’s not particularly intuitive and takes a lot of work to set it up correctly. As a result, since Apple started rolling out the feature to iPhone users in September, many people have missed work calls, home repair visits and doctor’s appointments. Social media is full of confused people wondering why they were not informed of the calls and why it seems that everyone messages are cut off. People wonder if their daughters are mad at them or if the emergency caller about a clogged sink suddenly figured out how to unclog the drain on their own.

In order to help people avoid distractions, Apple has created new ones for some.

The Focus feature, which Apple says “keeps you in when you need to focus,” is the latest Apple’s efforts and other tech companies that are supposed to help us untangle ourselves from the hold their products have on us. After all, our phones and computers have become our main means of communication, our entertainment and, for some, our source of income.

The feature was introduced as part of Apple’s new operating system last fall, although it took months for it to roll out widely to most iPhone users. And the way it happened is part of the problem. When you finally updated your iOS software – or remembered to leave your phone plugged in overnight so it could update automatically – all you saw was a quick notification telling you that the tool existed and offering to show you what it does. It’s the kind of notification that busy, harassed people – precisely those who might need the feature in the first place – quickly shy away from and plan to get to it later, someday. When some of them finally remembered to use the feature, they might not have fully understood what it does. Apple did not respond to a question about which iPhone users use the feature.

Even people who work on this stuff for a living had issues with Focus. vanessa bowen, a user experience designer specializing in design systems, says she appreciates Apple’s minimal design, but missed a psychiatric appointment when she activated the personal version of Focus, which gives you lets you customize the contacts and apps you want to hear at your own pace. Little did she know that to get those appointment notifications she had to add her calendar to a list of acceptable apps or opt to allow urgent notifications to go through even in Focus mode.

This kind of misadventure can have real repercussions.

“I wouldn’t get my prescription filled on time, and I’d probably be out for God knows how many days the next availability is,” Bowen said. “In those cases when it’s a really important feature and it’s going to interfere with your life in terms of missing calls or important reminders on your calendar, I don’t think they’ve really thought about that. .” She added, “There really wasn’t time in my life to allow me to set it up properly, nor did it inform me of what it would do.”

That means mere mortals don’t have much luck, especially since the setup is long and unintuitive. (Barbara Krasnoff at The Verge called the “intimidating” but ultimately “worth it” options.)

This is because enabling Focus disables all your notifications from people and apps you don’t specifically add, rather than just the specific people and apps whose notifications you want to disable. (When setting up the different focus modes, Apple offers a few suggestions of people to add as exceptions based on recent use of your device.) Although the process of including rather than excluding works in some circumstances, it doesn’t here, Bowen said. How could you anticipate that you would want to add, say, your exterminator as a contact that you would want to join even when your Focus Mode is on? Or maybe you didn’t realize that turning on “do not disturb” also meant turning off something as important as calendar notifications. Finally, by default, the feature tells others that you’ve turned off notifications – an announcement that not everyone would assume you’re subscribed to.

Setting up this feature seems to contradict Apple’s long-standing reputation for easy-to-use building technology. Like Dieter Bohn at The Verge Put theplaying on an old Apple slogan: “Understand that Apple Settings has changed from ‘It just works’ to ‘It’s just work’.”

User complaints about the product suggest that they misunderstand what it does or how to use it, or maybe they activated it by mistake in the first place. Either way, it’s not about them, it’s about Apple.

Amber Case, author of Quiet Technologya book about designing technology that demands less of our attention, thinks Apple is on the right track but hasn’t gotten there yet.

“I commend them for trying something difficult,” Case told Recode. “They should go on and test more granularly and keep trying. It will improve over time. »

That said, Case thinks Apple could have done better from the start, either calling it an experimental feature or learning how to use it better. Case also said there should be an easier way to report errors or edge cases that don’t work.

“Everyone using this feature right now is part of a huge beta test,” Case said.

Apple, for its part, said it tested the setting in beta shortly after its announcement from June to September 2021, so developers and members of the public could download the feature and provide feedback. The company said it will continue to monitor social media and Apple Support for issues faced by iPhone users and make improvements.

Introducing features that encourage people to control their devices rather than having their devices control them is certainly a step in the right direction. However, it should be just as easy to use them less than to use them too much in the first place.

This story was first published in the Recode newsletter. register here so as not to miss the next one!