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.

Introduction iMessage: Apple's Own BBM
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  • ddarko - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    "Unfortunately, iTunes Wi-Fi Sync asks that your phone be connected to a power source for the feature to work. This shouldn’t be too hard to grasp considering the massive power drain issues people would have inevitably faced had it not been otherwise."

    A quick but notable clarification in the review which gives the impression the wi-fi sync function requires a device to be powered to work. It needs to be plugged in to work automatically once a day. However, a device can manually be synced over wi-fi without being plugged in. Go to settings -> general -> iTunes Wi-Fi Sync and hitting the Sync Now button.
  • darkpaw - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    On the last pic in the find my friends section, you blurred out the account name at the top,. but not where it appears again at the bottom of the screen.
  • teetee1970 - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    You mentioned the newton force etc to take a picture. You can actually take pictures now with the headset using the up volume button. So you could hook up to a tripod etc or set the phone down somewhere and click away as fast as you can press the buttons on the headset. You could probably use a bluetooth up volume button too.
  • Guspaz - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    I've yet to have WiFi sync actually automatically sync my phone when plugging it in for the night. Perhaps iTunes must be left running on the computer, but that kind of defeats the purpose of automatic sync; I'm not going to leave a bloated app like iTunes running 24/7 just in case my iPhone decides to sync.

    If this is a requirement, WiFi sync will be largely useless for me until they can at least have a service launch iTunes on the PC when the phone wants to sync.
  • ddarko - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    Yes, iTunes has to be running for the wi-fi sync to initiate automatically. No, the iOS device won't launch and then quit iTunes.

    One other thing I've noticed is that leaving iTunes running with wi-fi sync enabled is an enormous power drain on the battery on my iPhone 4. I've noticed my fully charged phone will be down to 40% charge by the morning. Of course, if you leave the iPhone plugged in all night, it will still be fully charged in the morning but apparently, there's a lot of power-draining activities going on between iOS device and computer during the night. This is one reason I've decided not to use auto wi-fi sync since I don't want to keep iTunes running and unnecessarily using power overnight. I still like the wi-fi sync option a lot but I manually sync wirelessly and then quit iTunes.
  • Geigco - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    I was a Palm/WebOS junkie since it came out.

    "A company that executes consistently may not be competitive on day 1, but after a couple years of progressive iteration it may be a different beast entirely." sums up what WebOS failed to do successfully.
  • ltcommanderdata - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    Thanks for including results from previous iOS versions to see the evolution in performance as well as the analysis of iPhone 3GS and iPad 1 performance.

    I was wondering why GPU benchmarks weren't included? The results at Barefeats show that Apple seems to have much improved GPU drivers in iOS 5 compared to iOS 4.3.5. Devices seem to show around a 25% improvement in GLBenchmark for instance. It would be good if you could validate this result in GLBenchmark and GLview as well as add in the iPhone 3GS which Barefeats is missing.

    And do you know how GLBenchmark's online results database reports it's scores? For each device, in the details they seem to list multiple GPU driver and OS versions, which makes me think they are using a running average of submissions. Seeing performance changes with OS version, that would make he GLBenchmark online database very inaccurate. It's great that you are able to run the benchmarks on your own devices so that the results are unambiguous.
  • MyTechLife2 - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    I haven't seen many comments about the disadvantages of using iMessage. Here's some I've noted:

    iMessage costs more when not on wi-fi. I pay a flat $6 per phone for everyone in my family to have UNLIMITED SMS/MMS. Or if I use iMessage while away from Wi-Fi, it counts against my LIMITED $15/200MB per phone data plan.

    Also, I've found SMS to be more reliable than data service in congested and rural areas. Try posting a Facebook status update or any other data service from a crowded football stadium, vs. using SMS. SMS always wins.
  • lukarak - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    Most people don't have it like that. But then again, most normal people use Whatsapp. It has really been a revolution for me and my friends.

    P.S. I have 50 sms free per month, and 1GB of traffic.
  • repoman27 - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    iMessage packets are very small though. You would have to send on the order of 8000 iMessages per month to use even 1% of your 200MB plan. I'm guessing concerns regarding data plans are also the reason why Apple implements compression for iMessage MMS's when even one client isn't on Wi-Fi.

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