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Hands on: This music app helps your attention instead of stealing it

focus at will

While we’ve previewed Focus@Will before, the app has now officially launched, with more features and focus-friendly updates to keep you working away. 

To refresh your memory, the company was founded by CEO Will Henshall and Music Supervisor John Vitale in 2010, and Focus@Will is a one-of-a-kind music streaming service that uses phase sequenced instrumental music to heighten listeners’ awareness and attentiveness up to 400 percent while immersed in a horde of activities that require mental alertness, such as working, reading, studying, and writing. According to research, it works by targeting a part of your brain that’s usually pre-occupied with things that are alarming and distracting by nature and pacifies it, enabling the mind to relax and focus on other tasks at hand. Every music track included in Focus@Will’s specially curated library has a particular way of affecting your mind – the key, arrangement, speed, intensity, recording style, and emotion (among other things) are all taken into consideration when the app plays a song at a certain time.

After garnering 25,000 users since its private beta launch in December, the company has decided to expand its reach and make their service accessible worldwide, through the Web as well as through a mobile app (although it’s Android only for now). It comes with an updated and still-exclusive music library as well as a “Productivity Tracker.” A more detailed explanation of the science behind the technology is available on their official website.

How it works

Upon booting up the app, you are immediately taken to a music player that features a play button, a skip button, a timer, and an image depicting beautiful scenery. The app will let you use it for a limited time up to three separate times; the next time, you’ll be asked to sign up using either your Facebook, Google+, or email details to gain an additional three weeks of free, unlimited access.

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When your full access trial period elapses, you can choose to continue with the free, time-limited 100-minute session access or upgrade to either a monthly or annual paid subscription. If you opt for the free service, the music will stop every 100 minutes and this pop-up will appear:

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Holding down the timer button will let you set your preferred duration anywhere between a minute to 240 minutes. The default timer setting is 100 minutes, which seems to be the proposed “standard” length of a single study/writing/reading/work session before the need for a break. At the end of your timed session, the music will stop and a bell will sound to alert you.

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After clicking on the play button, a music track will play and its title and artist will be displayed onscreen. The idea is to have this play in the background while working.

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If you find any music track non-conducive to work or too enticing to resist, you are encouraged to click on the skip button to improve the music selection. Doing so will weed out songs that will potentially over-engage your conscious mind and retain ones that will help manage your non-focal attention and keep it aware enough that it does not wander off.

Next to the buttons, you have a drop-down featuring the available genres that suit a particular task. Not pictured in the screenshot below are the genres Classical, Cinematic, and Ambient. Focus@Will suggests that its service works better if you choose a genre you don’t usually listen to.

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After using the app for over 25 minutes, when you press the pause or stop button, a productivity survey will appear and will ask you to rate your experience. Your session information will then be added to the Productivity tracker.

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Swiping from right to left will reveal the Productivity Tracker. Since this is my first use, there hasn’t been any progress recorded for comparison, but by the looks of it, if you use the app everyday, you can graphically compare your productivity levels on a daily basis.

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Clicking on the musical note will take you out of the app and lead you to a page on the website where you can purchase the music you’ve just heard (although this feature is still in the works). Clicking on the menu button will show you the sign out button, a link to upgrade to a Paid account, Community, Blog, Privacy and Terms, and Help – all will take you out of the app and into your phone’s browser.

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Pros

The app is pretty simple and straightforward – it will take less than a minute to navigate through the whole thing. Having the ability to dictate the length of a “session” is also pretty great and allows the user to tailor-make his experience. The time management aspect of the app doesn’t overlook the importance of taking breaks from tedious tasks.

The song selection is also well done – I hardly had to press the skip button (in fact, the music beautifully faded into the background). This also made me see the app as sort of a teaching tool that will help me prioritize ambient music over popular songs that have lyrics or a familiar beat.

I am most interested in the app’s productivity tracking technology, which I hope will get better the longer I use it. According to Focus@Will, expected perks include a weekly focus level report, real-time statistics comparing session by session efficiency, and weekly feedback and personalized tips on how to minimize distractions.

Cons

As always, additional genres would be a welcome upgrade. Focus@Will intends to expand its library in the next few weeks, so this problem should be at least somewhat alleviated. 

At the end of the day, productivity is a great achievement to have. “Our ultimate goal is to make it increasingly easy for focusers everywhere to improve their attention span and identify ways to optimize concentration and productivity,” according to Henshall. “We are excited to complete the international roll-out of our revolutionary subscription service and give people even more options to ‘focus at will’ with a presence on Android.”

Formerly restricted to users within the U.S., Focus@Will can now be accessed anywhere in the world through the Web or any Android device. Users interested in the new premium, unlimited service can gain free access during a no-strings-attached trial period of three weeks. After this period, listeners who would like to continue having unlimited service can sign up for either the $3.99/month or $34.99/year plan. A free, time-limited version is also available. Facebook and iOS apps are currently in development.

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