The Story

Focus was an iOS app to discourage people from using their phone screen while driving. In 2015, it spawned off of my work I was doing on Moment. As fraught an issue as phone addiction is, there are no safety issues with too much screen time. However, when you’re behind the wheel and using your phone, you’re putting many lives at risk.

Three screenshots of the iOS interface for Focus, showing your time on your phone while driving
Your driving report card

Focus worked by automatically detecting when you started driving, then if you would pick up your phone, a voice would come over your speaker asking you nicely to put down your phone. If you didn’t, that voice would get angier and more sarcastic. Yes, it was my voice and here is how it sounded:

  • 😕 
  • 🙄 
  • 😡 

Embarassingly, those clips among others were played hundreds of thousands of times to the 42,000 people that downloaded the app.

In 2018, I shut down Focus to focus (har har 🙊) on Moment. It just never quite caught on. My suspicion is that most people — myself included — didn’t see their own screen time while driving as an issue. “I’m a good multitasker, I don’t need an app to fix this habit.” The one market this worked well for was parents of teenage drivers. It was a great way for parents to keep their kids accountable and a little safer on the road.

My Role

I worked on Focus by myself and wore many hats. I handled the system administration, backend development in Ruby on Rails, frontend design, and iOS coding in Objective-C/Swift. I handled all of the business side and customer service as well. I was even the voice actor 🙈

What I’m Most Proud Of

I’m most proud of the invisible user interface of Focus. Once you installed Focus, you never needed to tap into the app again. The app would work automatically and entirely from the background, even given the technical constraints of iOS.

You would start driving, Focus would detect that automatically. If you picked up your phone during that trip, it would play the audio reprimands. The main interactions with the app were the audio and some notifications.

If you were a passenger, Focus wouldn’t know that right away and would lightly scold you for using your phone. You could just shake your phone a couple times to mark yourself as “not driving.” Even that action require you to open the app and didn’t need a button!

I thought the invisible UI was quite handy for an app designed to lower your screen time while driving. It was difficult to build, but it was the perfect interface experience for an app that’s meant to be only used while you’re driving.