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

  • lurker22 - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    I disagree. Anecdotal reports better antennae reception in the 4s over the 4. Also the internals are almost completely different between the 4 and the 4s. Reply
  • Andrew Rockefeller - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    ...but then again, I come here for the info that I don't/can't get elsewhere. Is there really any need for yet another review on a spec bump? What magical new insight could be added to the dearth of info already available??
  • uhuznaa - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    Well, reliable comparisons of battery life and antenna performance would be good start. Reply
  • LordSojar - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    It's the Android notification system we've had for years with a few minor tweaks. Wow, Apple sure is revolutionary.

    Why isn't Google suing them again? Oh right, because Google aren't a**holes... my bad.
  • uhuznaa - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    I thought Android was "open" and even GPL/Apache licensed? Hard to sue anyone doing what the license allows them to do, really. Reply
  • lurker22 - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    Oh please just stop already it's getting old. Reply
  • name99 - Thursday, October 20, 2011 - link

    "Why isn't Google suing them again? Oh right, because Google aren't a**holes... my bad."

    Presumably because Google don't have a patent on the idea. Why not?
    Maybe there is prior art? Maybe Google just didn't get a patent?

    Either way, throwing out random statements as you are doing is not informative. The law has its flaws, but it's not just a popularity contest. If you have something useful to say about the legal issues go right ahead, but what you have said is not helpful, implying as it does that Google would never sue over patents. To take an example, if someone started copying pagerank or the adwords system, I expect Google would be suing them the next day.
  • Yann Bodson - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    The music app new design is inspired by the old Braun vinyl players.
  • cjs150 - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    There is a lot to admire about the new OS, and to be fair to Apple, the iPhone has been the class of the field since it first came out.

    Problem is that the field has raised their game. The rest of the field has no hang ups about making sure their phone works well with lots of software not just "Apple approved" products - particularly Microsoft products (I am not going to start on the Flash argument - lets just say it is an example of the closed universe that Apple wants).

    Simple fact is the overwhelming majority of businesses run Microsoft products and in particular Outlook and exchange servers. If Anandtech cannot the iOS 5 calender to work with Outlook consistently what hope is there for the rest of us.

    Great as a home phone, fantastic for kids. No better than B+ for business

    More positively I really like the Apple philosphy of getting all their mobile products working the same way, there will be loads of people with mobile phones and iPads and an MP3 player of some sort. I would take issue with the idea that make OS upgrades "PC free" is a novel concept. The iPad 2 probably has more processing power than the office machine I used 7 years ago, so the concept that freeing updates from the PC is revolutionary is feeble. The real question is why did it take so long to achieve such an obvious step.
  • steven75 - Monday, October 31, 2011 - link

    Funny because many of here at this Exchange shop use iPhones with our work email just fine, calendar and all. In fact, it works quite nicely.

    We have our choice of company phones and it's extremely rare for anyone to pick anything but an iPhone. I'm sure that would be different if it didn't play so nicely with Exchange.

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