Notifications and the Notification Center

At first glance notifications on a locked iOS device appear to be simply restyled. Instead of a blue popup with white text you get a black popup with white text - and an app icon. Unlike previous versions of iOS however, multiple notifications now appear in a list on the lock screen rather than simply replacing the notification that was there previously.



The list of notifications can get very long (we didn't test to see if it would ultimately stop, but you can now display at least 30 notifications on the lock screen) and iOS 5 allows you to scroll through them:


This feature alone is worth the upgrade to iOS 5 as it's a huge improvement in usability. You can now quickly get the gist of any SMS conversation and ensure there are no urgent emails that need tending to with a quick glance at your locked phone. Interacting with notifications from the lock screen is also improved, you can now slide over any notification to address it specifically:


While you’re actually using the phone, notifications are delivered via a small banner at the top of the screen, rather than the pop-up that would interrupt what you were doing. You can tap the banner to launch the app associated with the incoming notification, otherwise you're free to continue to use your device as if nothing happened. The banner notification eventually folds away if left untouched. It's significantly less intrusive than anything we've seen previously from Apple.

The older popup notification style is still available through the Notification Center settings page. You can now choose, on a per app basis, how you want notifications to appear: via alerts or the new iOS 5 banner style.
Apple offers a good amount of customization for notifications. You can choose whether or notifications appear on the lock screen, if a preview should be shown and if the associated badge app icon should appear. You can toggle all of these options, again, on a per-app basis. 


System notifications, such as those asking you to join a wireless network and those alerting you to low battery life, continue to use the “alert” style and are unchangeable.

Swiping a finger down from the top of the screen reveals the new Notification Center, where your active notifications are all listed (some apps, like Weather and Stocks, can also display permanent widgets here if desired). Notifications are listed by app, and will disappear from the Notification Center once addressed or cleared manually by the user. 

Pulling down the notification shade in a full screen app is a two-step process: pull once to reveal a tab and pull twice to reveal the shade. Apple does this to avoid any accidental shade activation.

The number of notifications per app in the Notification Center is customizable:

On the iPad, Notification Center works mostly like it does on the iPhone - although obviously occupying less of the screen:

The impact of the revamped notification system is arguably even more pronounced on the iPad as the previous system was a significant burden to productive use of the tablet.

The verdict? None of these features are exactly new to smartphones (Android users, especially, will note many similarities to the notifications shade) but the implementation is smooth and it really goes a long way toward making iOS more pleasant to use - the best software upgrades make you wonder how you got by without the improvements they bring, and the notification improvements achieve that goal.

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View All Comments

  • willstay - Monday, October 24, 2011 - link

    Exactly. Few of my friends complain that if they miss that email chirp, and that email notifications do not show upfront, they are going to have to actually run the email app to see if there are new emails (or remember unread counter from previous).

    LED notification is better suited for this kind of notification. Unfortunately my phone doesn't have one but comes with amoled screen and there I found free app that actually displays contact pic of person I missed call/text/email/yahoo/viber/whatsapp from. A quick glance from afar and I know if I missed anything.
  • steven75 - Monday, October 31, 2011 - link

    While I sympathize with your issue, I've been an iPhone user since 2007 and not even a single time has this been a problem for me.

    The fact is, my phone lives in my pocket even while at home. If I'm the shower, the phone is on the counter in the bathroom, usually because I'm listening to music or a podcast on it.
  • sigmatau - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    I for one will never, ever install one more piece of Apple software on my "PC". They can thank itunes (and quicktime) for that. Buggy, almost malware-like acting crap. Reply
  • Stuka87 - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    Go away troll. If you don't care for Apple, don't bother commenting on an Apple article. Reply
  • The0ne - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    I totally agree with you. What we need is segregation, a separation of Windows and Mac users. Screw the Linux users cause really they suck anyways. I'll go as far as to suggest we segregate idiots from average to knowledgeable users as well. All future reviews and articles should specify exactly what type of users should be allow. We all know people don't cross-platform use PCs, less know about them and the apps.

    Doing it this way it would be way way more fair. I'm serious, lets do it!
  • sigmatau - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    LOL why? Maybe they will rethink their magic and make it more magical! I'm so glad to get rid of my 3gs for a GS2.

    I've owned computers for almost 20 years. In all that time, I have never, ever used software that blatently prevented simple common sense functions. I guess it is Apples form of computer DRM.
  • simi13 - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    I only use iTunes for music, on Windows. Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    Well... itunes is pretty godawful. Reply
  • Bansaku - Wednesday, October 19, 2011 - link

    Uhm, I have been using iTunes, Safari, Quicktime and Software update in Windows since XP, and have found it to be 100% stable, NO bugs, and works like it does on my iMac. I call BS, Troll! Reply
  • anubis44 - Saturday, October 22, 2011 - link

    MobiusStrip, your point is well-taken. It would be nice for Apple to make incessant missed call bitching an option, but I take issue with your attitude. Only an a$$hole needs other people and machines to prod them in the a$$ every 5 minutes to do things. Try taking responsibility and check your godam phone for messages after your shower/bubble bath/whatever. No wonder the Chinese are leaving the West in their dust. With such lazy a$$holes like you being broadly representative of our spoiled, self-entitled civilization. Try being pro-active and less reactive in your life and you'll see amazing things happen before you know it. Reply

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