Apple has a habit of innovating, if not outright, at least presenting the most polished version of existing ideas. The Universal Control, for example, is basically a Logitech thing, beautifully done. One of the announcements at WWDC yesterday missed that mark, but came painfully close to bringing back a defining feature of the dial-in days.
The announcement in question is, of course, Focus, a new suite of features designed to help iPhone users let people know when not to be disturbed. “It turns out that it’s even easier to step back and focus when people know we’re busy,” said Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering. “So we created an easy way to let others know when you do.” Focus solves the problem of:
- Leave notifications on and get annoyed by unnecessary messages at all times or
- Turn them off and later explain to the disbelieving sender that you weren’t ignoring them intentionally
However, as you may recall, there is historical precedent for a feature that communicates that you are “away” from your device in the form of a “message” — built into AOL Instant Messenger nearly a quarter of a century ago.
Here’s a quote: “[It] the classic was finding a solution to a very personal problem: nobody answers, what does that mean?” I’ll let you guess whether that comes from Apple’s Federighi or AOL’s former design director JoRoan Lazaro. (Reply here.)
AIM was a hugely successful product for a long time. So what’s the problem?
While out of office messages allowed a degree of customization in what inactive users communicated to their friends (all for specific reasons why they weren’t available for ASCII art or lyrics), Apple’s version only states “[name] silenced reports with Focus.” Yes, focus is capitalized. Instead of using a new feature to gently say to a friend, “Sorry, I’m a little confused right now, but I want to hear what you have to say later,” the capitalized Focus of the brand as if I hired Apple. as a bouncer to tell my friends to piss.
To give Federighi the benefit of the doubt, AIM did not begin adjusting the absentee status. In the same oral history As the quote above, Eric Bosco, former VP of the community of AIM, said: “The out of office message started as a default status – ‘I’m gone’ – on the internal IM platform. But then we realized that still wasn’t so convenient. It didn’t say where you were going […] So we thought, why not make it more free text.”
Fingers crossed that Apple will come to the same realization in the months between iOS 15’s developer beta (now) and its public release (sometime this fall).