On Valentine’s Day, Tonya texted me (don’t get excited, she was thanking me for tracking down some squirrely accounting details for our taxes) and commented that my notifications were silenced in Messages.
It was noon, and there was no reason I would be hiding from notifications, particularly from her, and I noticed her message right away on my iMac. Curious about why Messages claimed I had notifications silenced and certain that I hadn’t intentionally enabled any Focus, I started checking all my devices.
No Focus was active on my iMac or iPhone, the devices I use most frequently and those that would be most likely to change my Focus. My next thought was my iPad Pro, which I use infrequently enough that it’s often out of power. It was indeed dead, so I thought perhaps it had died while in the nightly Do Not Disturb such that Focus had gotten stuck. But no—as soon as the iPad powered up, it became clear that no Focus was active, and Tonya’s iPhone continued to report that I had notifications silenced.
That left my M1 MacBook Air. I don’t particularly care about Focus on my Macs because I rarely use them during hours or in situations when I don’t want to be disturbed. However, I had enabled the Share Across Devices option when we were covering Focus changes in Apple’s latest operating systems (see “What’s New with Focus in iOS 16,” 7 October 2022).
This setting caused the MacBook Air to inherit my Driving and Sleep settings in Focus, which is confusing because they’re triggered by the iPhone, and if my iPhone thinks I’m either driving or asleep, I’m certainly not using the MacBook Air. For unknown reasons, the MacBook Air would regularly throw a notification about how the Driving Focus was enabled. I never understood why, because the Driving Focus is triggered only by the iPhone connecting to our cars’ Bluetooth systems, and I was patently not driving when I had the MacBook Air open on my lap in the dining room. But I hadn’t noticed it making any difference, so I never looked into it.
Until now. I use Messages only a few times per day, but no one had previously commented about my notifications being silenced. In fact, Tonya was sensitive to it because she found herself in the same situation last weekend when I noticed that her notifications were inappropriately silenced. We haven’t had time to track that one down.
Once I realized that Focus on the MacBook Air was the culprit, the fix was simple. I first turned off the Share Across Devices option. Then I deleted the Driving Focus, with prejudice, and also deleted the Sleep Focus since that’s equally nonsensical on the Mac. Finally, since I seldom use the MacBook Air during my normal Do Not Disturb hours—and if some unusual situation or emergency causes me to be working late, I do want notifications!—I neutered the Do Not Disturb Focus by deleting its schedule. I would have deleted it, but Focus doesn’t allow that. For sanity’s sake, I did the same to Focus on my iMac as well.
This situation is a perfect example of how Focus makes using Apple devices more unpredictable (see “Apple’s New Focus Feature May Be Overkill,” 20 January 2022). Generally speaking, I’m in favor of clever systems with lots of options, but only when those options don’t force users into complex troubleshooting scenarios, particularly with missed communications.
So I stand by my key recommendation from my original article:
Stick with the standard scheduled Do Not Disturb and Driving notifications, plus Sleep if you use watchOS’s sleep tracking capabilities. Those classic capabilities—blocking notifications during specific times, such as when you’re asleep and while driving—address the needs of most people.
To that, I’ll now add that you should turn off Share Across Devices unless you’re sure you want your iPhone to control the Focus state on other devices.