Skip to content
Thoughtful, detailed coverage of everything Apple for 32 years
and the TidBITS Content Network for Apple professionals
43 comments

Notifications Unexpectedly Silenced? Blame Focus

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.

Notifications 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).

Focus in Ventura enabled

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.

Driving Focus enabled

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.

Focus in Ventura disabled

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.

Subscribe today so you don’t miss any TidBITS articles!

Every week you’ll get tech tips, in-depth reviews, and insightful news analysis for discerning Apple users. For over 32 years, we’ve published professional, member-supported tech journalism that makes you smarter.

Registration confirmation will be emailed to you.

Comments About Notifications Unexpectedly Silenced? Blame Focus

Notable Replies

  1. I have the same problem. However, sharing across devices is off for my MacBook Air. My iPhone is geriatric (iPhone 6) and my iMac with High Sierra doesn’t have Focus either.

  2. This discussion was valuable. My wife and I were going nuts trying to figure out why notifications of incoming text messages “suddenly” stopped. After reading the above comments, I checked her recently updated Macbook Air M-1 and found “focus” turned on. But that did not fix problem. I then checked focus on her iPhone 6S and found “focus” on…which no one had turned on. Turned it off; problem fixed; text messages are once again providing appropriate notifications.

    Thanks for the junkware, Apple.

  3. I just had a worried phone call from a long-term client who reported this strange warning in Messages: “Communication Limit”.

    Never heard of that one before! . . . Ah ha! ScreenTime allows you to set limits on application use and communications!

    What a farce! He’s been missing messages from family because of this!

    Apparently, this was switched on in some update over the past few months because he had no idea what the hell ScreenTime was. . . .

    I’ve now taken to telling family and friends and clients to shut off ScreenTime and Focus completely. If you aren’t obsessed with Get It Done methodologies these “features” cause no end of confusion and irritation.

    I understand Focus is truly useful for people who leave their phones on overnight and ScreenTime might be very useful for a parent with a teen who’s a 37-hour a day user but for the rest of us? Turn 'em off! :slight_smile:

    Dave

  4. Interesting! And annoying for sure!

    you should turn off Share Across Devices unless you’re sure you want your iPhone to control the Focus state on other devices.

    Yes. But you also said that you weren’t driving at the time. So even if “you’re sure you want your iPhone to control the Focus state on other devices”, you’re probably also sure you don’t want your phone lying about your focus.

    So it seems more to me like a bug that Apple needs to fix, no? And after it’s fixed, leaving the sync feature on still seems useful.

  5. Thanks Adam, that’s a direction to follow to sort out similar confusion in this house. Complexity breeding opaqueness for sure. Syncing is not inherently useful, only it’s application can be.

  6. Once again, proof that Apple’s iOS features get turned on during some activation/update, or uninformed turn on a setting with an imperceptable “Skip This” that results in lost communications. The Screentime issue is likely activated on update or new phone/device.
    I, as well, have noticed message notification from friends that Notifications are off aka Messages are silenced. When I ask them, they are boggled too. And thanks to Adam’s discovery, I was able to explain the co-oincidence that they had Focus on for their MacbookAir when in zoom or other sharing to not be disturbed, but never remember turning on Shared across devices.
    IF someone drives and uses their laptop (perhaps on a train or public transit?) I’m sure Focus is the least of their problems…

  7. I never knew the Focus “feature” existed until I read this, but sure enough it’s hidden under System (12/6/1Preferences. I don’t have an iPhone or an iPad, although I do have a MacBookAir as well as my MacMini desktop. Could this be why the sound preferences seem to change by themselves? I keep finding output shifting between my USB speakers, my display speaker, my MacMini speaker, and the “external speaker” port, which may be my webcam. At the moment, Input shows nothing attached (which makes me wonder if the webcam is attached) even after I open Zoom (although it is not in use). Could this weirdness be related to Focus, or are there some other odd “features” that might be doing it. FWIW, I am on 12.6.3.

  8. This is the second time in a week that TidBITS or TidBITS talk has provided the exact solution I needed to an annoyance that I was having. This is great!

    Dave

  9. Yeah, I can’t explain why my MacBook Air thought I was driving when I wasn’t—that’s presumably a bug of some sort. But my point about turning off the sharing is that, for me at least, there’s no reason I would ever want Driving or Sleep to be available on my Macs. They just make no sense whatsoever, and by turning off sharing and deleting them, I ensure that they cannot cause confusion, even indavertently.

  10. Probably not, in this case. I don’t believe Focus has any built-in capabilities to change sound output choices.

  11. Yea, I totally get that. But I’ve been noodling this since you wrote the article. Seems less likely, but what if your Mac is within earshot of your bedroom. You’d want it to respect Sleep focus, right?

    Driving Focus is tougher to justify. If you like to drive with your laptop open on the passenger seat, then maybe that could be useful :sweat_smile:

    But in all cases, I don’t see where any of them hurts; in general, if you don’t want to be disturbed, you want everything shutting up. I think I have to fall back to the idea that if Apple doesn’t get the “driving” assumption wrong, everything might be fine!

  12. It seems as if Apple has teams of engineers devoted to making sure you don’t get your messages. Every time I turn notifications back on, they come up with a new way of silencing them,

  13. San

    My iPhone Reminders were silent for a long time. I searched online a lot, and discovered it’s a common problem that has many different “solutions”… each of which worked for a few people but not for most. In other words, there are many reasons why this may happen. So much for iPhone being simpler than Android. (I have one of each, and still find both of them to be confusing and annoying at times.)

    In my case, it turned out that all my time-consuming tweaking of settings throughout the iPhone didn’t help. Neither did restarting the phone, or shutting it off for a while. Eventually I discovered something truly horrible: my iPhone wasn’t making any alert sound for incoming phone calls or texts either! But it did buzz (vibrate) when they arrived. Also, it would play music normally through its own speaker, so I knew the speaker wasn’t dead.

    I had better luck after that, because instead of searching online for a problem with “Reminders”, I searched for a broader problem with “sounds” (or audio). I found the answer quickly, and it made me feel really, really dumb…

    There’s a tiny, recessed slider switch on the left side of my iPhone 7+, near the top. Its purpose is to turn on “Silent Mode”. Why it’s called that is a little confusing, since music will still play in that mode; it silences all the alert sounds. It’s not the same as “Do Not Disturb”, which I use every night, and which suppresses both sound and vibration – that’s a software switch, but this is a hardware slider.

    Anyway, despite its being tiny and recessed (unlike the phone’s other buttons)… and even more deeply recessed due to my phone’s case… I somehow had slid it accidentally into the silent position. Truly mysterious. The silent position is when it’s very slightly closer to the back of the phone, and there’s a teeny tiny sliver of orange color showing next to it.

    As soon as I slid it forward again, so the orange color went away, all my audio problems went away too. Boy did I feel dumb!

  14. I had this happen so often I ended up disabling car/driving focus.

    My situation was made worse by the fact where I live there’s no cell signal. So whenever I would arrive home the iPhone would get confused and driving focus would still be on when I got to the computer.

  15. It would be asleep if I was (and the MacBook Air would be shut). I also have a Meross smart outlet on my powered speakers to ensure that no unusual activity on my iMac can wake it up and cause it to make a loud sound. I’ve also had a Keyboard Maestro macro that muted the Mac at night and reinstated sound in the morning, but I’m sticking with the speaker now.

    Well, yes, if everything worked, there would be no problems. :-) But the more complex Focus becomes, the more opportunities there are for things to not work, either by misconfiguration or due to bugs.

  16. Thanks! Had not got around to look it up for the people who had it activated unknowingly – most people who have it active seems not to be aware of it and quite a lot of people too.

  17. I do tend to forget that I have DnD on though :sweat_smile:. Kind of like finishing a workout at the gym and forgetting to tell my watch to stop. In the latter case, at least it checks in and asks if I’m done. At the risk of vexing @ace with more complexity, such reminders on DnD might be handy :sweat_smile::sweat_smile:

  18. I never set DnD unconditionally. If you tap the 3 dots next to the selection, you have the choices:
    For 1 hour
    Until this evening
    Until I leave this location

    One of those is usually appropriate.

  19. Yes you’re right. If I make a few more gestures I get to that point. But often I’m in the middle of something from which I can barely be distracted enough to press the control panel button once, so that distractions are shut up while I try to focus on something critical. Then an hour later I find it’s still enabled.

  20. I actually use an Apple watch to set Focus. On the Apple Watch, if you hit the DnD button, you must then make a selection; there is no default.

  21. Yea. Sadly, I get work emergency calls at all hours of the night, at which point the watch is charging somewhere, and only my phone is nearby.

  22. Oh and the other thing is this:

    What you’re seeing is the absence of an icon reminding me my iPhone is in DnD. If there’s an option to show an icon I have disabled, I’d love to know where to find it.

  23. Another win for the Apple Watch:

    incoming-1115CBD7-E513-46FB-BAEA-CD70A70C57CA

    Actually, only a partial win since ithe Focus status appears at the bottom of the iPhone lock screen. However, it does not appear anywhere if the phone is unlocked.

  24. This is another one of these stupid little things. You need to actually bring down Control Center to be able to see that little moon indicating DnD on. But hey, being able to see just battery percentage on a 12 mini w/o invoking shenanigans was already a major upgrade.

    Under-screen camera & FaceID cannot come soon enough.

  25. When I have DND (or any other focus) on, I have the indicator next to the time (to the left of the notch) during normal usage, at the bottom of the lock screen, and to the left of the battery indicator when control center is open.

  26. Yep on my watch I get it. But ironically, on the much larger iPhone screen, the feedback is piecemeal.

    I did just notice that if the location tracker takes a break, then DnD does show up. Maybe I’ll just turn off the former since I’m so used to it being on, I’m apparently resolved to divulging my location to everything all the time anyway.

    UPDATE: I guess my memory was wrong… I don’t see any way to turn off the Location “arrow” in the status bar! I guess I have to be informed about something I don’t care about!

  27. Agreed!

    Now, location services are sharing the same menu bar real estate, using some algorithm that I haven’t detected yet.

    But I’m now looking at the other side. Is there any reason I need to know the cellular signal strength when I’m on WiFi? Why can’t that hide behind the WiFi icon until WiFi is disconnected?
    image

  28. For phone calls. Text messages. Not all carriers support WiFi calling.

  29. Oh yea I guess you’re right. People do still make phone calls :sweat_smile::joy:

    But hmm. I have AT&T which has amazing US coverage. I don’t travel a ton, but the fraction of my life where cellular reception is poor is maybe 0.001% of the time.

    Couldn’t we compromise by having this indicator hide until it falls to one bar?

    One could make a similar argument about staring at a battery indicator that is >80%. I really don’t need to know that every second of every day.

    Then we have room to show alerts we truly need reminding about, such as DnD.

  30. The cellular iPad also shows cellular strength when on WiFi.

  31. Right. I have a cellular iPad and I still find that useful, because there are times when it shows no signal when I know there should be one. Usually toggling airplane mode off and on fixes that, but sometimes I need to restart. I’d rather know that cellular is acting up before I take the iPad someplace where I’m expecting to use mobile data. Plus of course the amount of room on the iPad status area really isn’t an issue like it is with iPhone.

  32. That’s exactly the point. I do want location notification and since I have a weather widget on my home screen that location arrow is basically always turned on when I’m on my home screen rather than in an app.

    So that little moon next to never shows up over there. And hence, as I pointed out above, to see if DnD is on I need to drag down control center. There is some wasted space up there for sure, but Apple seems reluctant to make more efficient use of it (just recall all the drama about the battery icon/percentage during the iOS 16 beta days) — or at least just give us the option to have a denser display up there so that we can see if DnD is on or off without resorting to lots of dragging and tapping. A simple little option that takes nothing from those who think it’s awesome the way it is, but offers improvement to those who seek it.

  33. Very strange. I also have the weather widget on my main home screen and I do not see a constant arrow (as you can see from my screen shots.) It turns on when I tap the widget to open the weather app; as soon as I swipe back to my home screen, in less than a second, the location arrow disappears. I’m guessing you have another app or service that is showing the location arrow.

  34. Control Center will tell you what the source of the arrow is. Mine says System Services and Weather. System Services… very descriptive. :rofl:

  35. But mine says “Weather recently” when the arrow is not showing (eg, in the circumstance I just described - I tap the widget to enter the weather app, the arrow shows, I swipe back home, I wait about a second until the arrow disappears.) I’ve been checking, I still haven’t seen system services. (And now, after typing this, there is no location arrow at the top of control center.)

    Weather location in location services of privacy settings is set to “always”.

    Again, I’m thinking you have some other service that’s keeping that arrow lit.

  36. To add to this, Settings / Privacy / Location Services / System Services. I have the setting at the very bottom (status bar icon) turned off. I also have all the product improvement settings turned off.

  37. Bravo, you found it! Turned that off, and now the spot on my status bar has freed up, and properly shows the DnD “moon” when enabled! Thanks!

  38. /OT Is this the reason maps asks me during navigation if a crash is still around or has been cleared? I never knew about this routing and traffic setting, but I have in the past always thought it was highly unsafe to ask me in the middle of driving to interact with the phone just to keep my screen clear of clutter. Keep your analytics off my navigation. Don’t make me take my focus off the road.

    If turning off this setting gets rid of that, awesome! And thanks to @ddmiller for pointing it out.

  39. Honestly - ios should show both status indicators. They can fit three separate indicators to the right of the notch, so they can get three to the left as well.

  40. Waze does the same thing. It’s apparently their (highly limited) way of crowd sourcing traffic data.

  41. Are you saying there’s a way to turn off the clock? I don’t think I would, but I’m curious.

    Side note: here’s Apple’s helpful inventory of the 101 things they display in the status bar with no explanation about how they fight for space :sweat_smile:

  42. No, I’m saying that like the right “ear” can have battery, WiFi, and mobile icons, I don’t see why the left side can’t have clock, location, and focus indicators.

  43. Gotcha. Well, we know we can have at least two: clock and location/DnD. But given the width of the clock, I’m not sure there’s room for a third.

Join the discussion in the TidBITS Discourse forum

Participants