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How to Deal With Apple’s Buggy ‘Driving Focus’

Photo: Alim Yakubov (Shutterstock)

Apple’s Focus feature is a great way to wrangle all of your Apple devices together to match your current activity. If you’re on the job, a Work Focus can knock out unnecessary notifications on your iPhone, as well as your iPad and Mac. On the flip side, a Personal Focus will ensure none of your work communications make it through until the following day of business, even as you flip between your tech. The Driving Focus, however, is different.

Unlike other Focuses, Apple designed it to be automatic by default. If your iPhone thinks you’re driving, it kicks into gear, in an effort to keep you focused on the road and not distracted by texts and notifications. It’s a good thing. Except that it’s a bit broken. It seems the iPhone’s sensitivity for what it thinks is “driving” is a bit too high, which leads to the Focus turning on when you aren’t in a vehicle, or even moving at all.

You can see the general issue from this Reddit thread. The OP posts about how their Driving Focus is set to turn on automatically when the iPhone detects motion, however the Focus engages even with their iPhone sitting still on a desk. Lifehacker Deputy Editor Joel Cunningham has been dealing with the exact same problem. In fact, the entire time we discussed the issue, his Driving Focus was turning on and off. Sure, Apple: He was driving, at a desk, at work.

The issue here isn’t only you’ll miss notifications on your iPhone, either. Focuses, by default, affect all connected and compatible Apple devices. That means if your Driving Focus turns on for your iPhone, it also turns on for your iPad and Mac. If you use that Mac to work, like Joel, seeing alerts for “Driving” toggling on and off all day isn’t a productivity hack.

Why this Driving Focus glitch happens isn’t clear. Obviously, this isn’t the same as when Driving kicks in when you’re a passenger in a car, or when on another form of transit you aren’t in control of. The iPhone isn’t moving! It also isn’t something Apple has patched. The OP in the previously mentioned Reddit thread experienced the issue with iOS 15.5, while Joel was running iOS 16.

How to stop Driving Focus from turning on when you aren’t driving

While we might not know what causes the problem, there are a couple of workarounds to patch it up. The first thing to try is to stop your Driving Focus from activating automatically. It won’t matter if your iPhone thinks you’re moving if there’s no Focus to trigger because of it. To change that setting, go to Settings > Focus > Driving, then, under Turn On Automatically, tap While Driving. Here, the choice is yours. If you have a car with Bluetooth, you can tap “When Connected to Car Bluetooth,” which will engage your Driving Focus automatically when your iPhone pairs with your car.

If you have a CarPlay-compatible car, “Activate With CarPlay” achieves a similar goal. Once you connect your iPhone to CarPlay, your Driving Focus is good to go. If you don’t have Bluetooth or CarPlay in your car, however, try “Manually.” You’ll have to remember to turn on your Driving Focus whenever you drive, but at least you won’t be plagued by Driving alerts all day. Of course, you could always go one step further and delete your Driving Focus altogether, but I’d encourage you to continue using it if possible. It’s a good safety feature, even if a bit buggy.

Apart from that, the other option is to disable “Share Across Devices” in the general Focus settings menu. That way, if your iPhone does glitch out and turn Driving on when you’re not really driving, it won’t affect other devices like your Mac. But that exposes a flaw with the company’s Focus feature, specifically when it comes to Driving: Why is “Share Across Devices” not Focus-specific? Why can’t I disable sharing the Driving Focus, while preserving sharing for Focuses like Work and Personal? After all, if I’m driving, I don’t have access to my Mac or iPad, so what do I care if alerts are turned off for those devices too?

Apple should do two things going forward here. First, they need to patch the bug in iOS 16.2. Second, they need to add “Share Across Devices” per Focus. Until then, we’ll need to use these workarounds to actually get any work done.

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