new Apple FOCUS – An In-Depth Look At Apple’s Fitness Focus Mode

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Apple Focus for Fitness Apple Watch in watchOS 8

Apple has introduced a FOCUS mode for iOS 15/watchOS 8.

In a nutshell: The feature helps you answer “What do you want to focus on?” and then provides mechanisms to remove unwanted distractions.

In a little more detail: You create automated FOCUS Modes for FITNESS, sleep, work…any situation. And each of those modes boils down to you restricting or permitting apps/people from contacting you. There are some nuances like how the other person is made aware of your status and if a really important notification is allowed to slip through the filters but that’s essentially it.

Note: Prior to iOS15 a simple flavour of this feature existed as a generic Do Not Disturb mode (Settings> DO NOT DISTURB)

What Problems Are Solved?

Jo from the office contacts you a lot. You like Jo but when you are halfway through that yoga routine you don’t want your watch or iPhone buzzing away because Jo wants to go through trivial agenda items for next week’s team meeting. But you’re close to sealing the deal on a house and urgently need to speak to the realtor (estate agent). The new Focus mode lets you control who can disturb you and you can also let them know what you are busy doing.

Cynics would say this new Apple feature appears to be too complex… and, as such won’t be used too much. However, the cynics would also say that the solution is SELF CONTROL by leaving your phone in another room or simply enabling do not disturb (DND)….but they’re wrong.

I hope you can see that there are some scenarios where you might want a selective DND feature – that is what Apple call FOCUS.

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Must Read: Apple Fitness+ Review

Enabling Focus For Fitness Usage In the Apple Ecosystem

There are various Focus profiles that your iPhone suggests for you which you can then tailor to your needs…or you can create a bespoke profile from scratch. Once activated, the FITNESS FOCUS can be made to start/stop automatically or manually. So your only time investment is setting it up in the first place and that should take a couple of minutes…5 minutes, tops.

First up, go to Settings> Focus for a list of your Focus profiles and the ‘+’ in the top right corner is where you can create a bespoke profile. There are some generic settings like the ability to allow repeated phone calls to override any block, and these settings are carried over from iOS 14’s DND mode.



There’s a nice, short wizard that takes you through the Fitness Focus profile setup.

You can see in this slideshow that I’ve added 5 contacts and 4 apps that are allowed to contact me when the Fitness Focus mode is enabled. Perhaps the most useful setting is shown on the 5th slide where you can have the Fitness Focus mode automatically enabled when most Fitness apps start. That automation definitely works with iSmoothRun and, of course, Apple’s Workout app.



You’re done! That’s all you need to do and it’s quick to get this far.

There are some other notifications and screens that are worth noting for completeness. Here goes…

Fitness Focus changes to the iPhone

It takes about 5 seconds for my iPhone 11 to realise that a workout has started and then the Focus mode is triggered on the iPhone too. Not much seems to happen other than the green runner appearing on your lock screen.


Pressing and holding the green runner gives you a further option to tweak the Fitness Focus settings.



Fitness Focus changes to the Watch

When you start a workout on the watch, a green icon of a runner appears at the top of the home screen and next to the time of day on the Apple Workout app screen, this informs you that Focus mode is active.


Changing Focus Mode on the Watch

Focus modes cannot be modified on the Apple Watch. You can, however, change how and when they start in the watch settings. You do that here Settings>Focus. It seems incomplete to me, though, and only allows you to add new timing schedules to your existing Focus profiles copied from the iPhone.

If I had the LTE version of the Apple Watch, maybe this would be useful. But I don’t. So I would make any kind of changes like these on the iPhone.

Once created, the timing schedules will obviously be automatically enabled but you can manually set how the modes are triggered as one-offs.

Manually Enabling Fitness Focus

The Apple Watch quick action tray that you swipe up has changed in watchOS 8.

The half-moon icon (DND) is still there and now changes appearance depending on the active Focus mode. In the second image, you can see that a green runner appears in place of the half-moon to show that Fitness Focus is enabled.

I especially like how you can enable Fitness Focus mode until you leave the current location. So if you were in the gym, that might be ideal to use if you usually forget to turns these kinds of things off when you’ve finished!

Getting Through to you Anyway

When I setup Fitness focus I couldn’t get it to work properly in the sense that others couldn’t notify me as I would have expected. As the image, below, shows I could get it to work if I used the old, generic Focus mode (DND).



What Could Apple Change

I would like to see the watch add the ability to activate Fitness Focus ‘Until I Return‘ to the current location as this would cover usage for my bike rides.

Also, I would like to see Siri able to activate these modes and, apparently, that is planned. (That would be useful when driving, for example)

The interface to create Focus Modes on the iPhone appears a little daunting at first and some people will be put off from attempting to use this feature, even though it is easy to use.

That said, the wording used is confusing as it certainly doesn’t behave how I would expect it to. For example, enabling “Share Focus Status” means that the apps on your phone will be aware of your status but NOT those people trying to contact you. It definitely makes sense for Apple to add some sort of ability for OTHERS to know your status (see the previous section).

Take Out

Despite being a lover of new tech it takes a good feature to get me to change my ways in the long term. There has to be a clear reason to use a new feature and it has to work properly.

I will use Fitness Focus…but it doesn’t work how I would expect it to right now.

There are some clear use-cases where some people will benefit from customised DND modes…which is what Fitness Focus really is. For my personal use, I can quite happily ignore an incoming phone call or message without needing technology to do it for me.

However, what I like and what I will (eventually) use is the ability to inform others that I am busy so that they will have some confidence that I’m not simply ignoring them and might get back to them soon.

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