iOS 15: Creating Focus in a Digitally Distracted World

Jessi Sparks

VP of Strategy

Mobile developers eagerly await Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference—WWDC—each year, but the 2021 event was a little different than those past. The company known for its innovative and cutting edge user experience doubled down on software as its shining star this June. Personally, I found this change of pace very refreshing. Let me explain why.

News media and the general public are always abuzz with talk of a new iPhone model, but the reality is that software is where your user experience truly shines. Even the most sleek hardware is really just a heavy paperweight without a well-designed operating system, so seeing WWDC almost exclusively focused on improvements to its iOS was a welcome change.

iOS 15 brings a lot to the table, but what intrigues me the most are the new ways Apple aims to help users focus their attention. I can see a lot of potential there for improving productivity and work/life balance.

Our smartphones are never far from our hands and we rely on it for the messages, calendars, photos, and apps that help us connect with the world around us. Given how crucial mobile devices are to our daily lives, it can be easy to overlook how they can also distract us from our present. For as much as they help us keep in touch when we’re apart, these communication technologies can also be a barrier when interacting with colleagues, friends, and family in real time.

How many times have you needed someone to repeat a question during a Teams call because you were multitasking during the meeting? How often have you sat at a family dinner where everyone was quietly checking their phones or scrolling social media? I certainly know that I’ve been guilty of these habits. Wouldn’t it be great if our devices could help us stay in the moment, keeping our attention on the task at hand so we can stop missing important moments for collaboration and connection?

iOS 15 is designed to solve just this problem. New features will help us stay in the zone when we’re at work and minimize distractions when we’re off the clock. Simple UI experiences will help us process and retain information, all while bringing clarity and order to the notification noise.

Here are three features that I hope will help me regain focus once the iOS 15 is released.

1. Custom Focus Features

Apple is now giving users the ability to set an intention for blocks of time based on location or time of day. What a great idea! Not only will this allow users to segment conversations with notification day-parting, but it will also let them manage this feature across all of their Apple devices. For example, now your phone can automatically inform your friends and family that you’re away from 9 to 5 on weekdays.

At a time when many of us are working from home—or maybe have gone permanently remote—setting boundaries between work hours and personal time has never been more important. This feature will be a major sanity saver and help users make the most of their time.

2. Depth of Field for Video

As a photo nerd, I remember being so excited when I got my Nikon90 because I could attach my DSLR lenses and shoot gorgeous cinematic-quality depth of field videos with my camera! That was such a treat. Now, Apple has iOS 15 doing the same thing with videos! We all love the iPhone camera’s stellar Portrait mode, so adding this functionality to it’s video capability is sure to be a hit.

Again, our focus is what matters. The human eye creates depth of field automatically, so most people never recognize it. When you see a well-positioned portrait, you don’t think twice because it looks so natural. When all objects in the frame are in focus, it’s actually harder for the human brain to process the image. Adding depth of field to videos will keep the focus on your subject, giving your video the maximum impact.

3. New Notifications Experience

Are you a notification hoarder like I am? Do you constantly have a stack of alerts on your lock screen and little red badges on all of your app icons? Or are you more like my colleague Cory, who clears her notifications the minute they come through? Either way, the ability to quickly triage and decide when to give it your attention is essential.

In the new notification redesign, not only are images larger but they are also paired with contextual clues to make those snap decisions easier. For example, a notification from my co-worker Steve will appear with his Slack profile image paired with the Slack icon. This is brilliant. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve known that someone messaged me, but I can’t recall if it was on Slack, email, Teams, etc. Adding this visual indicator will make it that much easier to remember and respond.

This is another subtle feature all about focus, allowing me to quickly parse the most important information. The human brain likes patterns and patterns make absorbing data faster. This simple UI change helps my brain contextualize the message from Steve, allowing me to set its priority and enabling me to more efficiently respond to multiple requests.

I cannot wait until iOS 15 comes out so I can try these focus features. But until then, I think I hear my phone buzzing…wait…was that an email or text?

Want to learn more about iOS 15? Check out this article, especially the section on Tools to Find Focus.