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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  • name99 - Wednesday, October 19, 2011 - link

    Unfortunately, iMessage still isn’t a clean break since it’s limited to the confines of iDevices (and not even the desktop, yet), and it’s no way to make friends to tell people they’ll need at least an iPod Touch to text you.

    It's worth remembering that Apple also did not say, on day one, that FaceTime would be available on desktops. In fact they announced
    - FaceTime for Phones in June 2010.
    - FaceTime for iPods in Sept 2010.
    - FaceTime for Macs in Oct 2010.

    I'd say, given the FaceTime experience, there is no reason to assume iMessage for Macs won't appear as soon as Apple feels the time is appropriate. (Who knows when that will be, but it will probably be thrown into, to spice up some Mac related announcements, rather than just appearing silently in OSX update 10.7.3).

    The limitation to the Apple world may be a bigger hassle longterm, at least in terms of wanting to avoid SMS charges. I guess if you have lots of non-Apple using friends, you need to stick with Viber and suchlike.

    The REAL attack on the telcos comes when
    - FaceTime offers a voice-only mode AND
    - Apple offers VoIP transport to foreign numbers (like Skype does)
    My guess is Apple has plans for both of these, but they'll be introduced at the point where the Telcos no longer have the power to screw Apple over (which Apple probably feels requires a larger critical mass of customers than they have today).
  • alpha754293 - Thursday, October 20, 2011 - link

    How does the new iOS affect battery life?
  • techloverLA - Thursday, October 20, 2011 - link


    I own a Mac that recently got the iCloud upgrade. I turned it on and registered a new .me ID just to try it out for fun. Later when I turned it off, it gave me the message that "turning off iCloud will delete all iCloud data from the Mac. User can still access iCloud data with other iDevices." That scared me a bit, as I thought all my calendar/contacts on my Mac will get deleted. I logged on to and found nothing has been sync'd, so I went ahead and turned iCloud off. Nothing happened to my existing data on Mac. However this makes me wonder, does turning off iCloud wipe off data from the advices? I don't own an iPhone, but am considering one. However I don't want to have to delete data from my device should I choose not to use iCloud. Do you find that true in your test? Thanks.
  • RosiePerkins - Friday, October 21, 2011 - link

    I think that if you are so pedantic as to worry about mising calls constantly. Or enough to be thrown by the fact there is no 'repetitive and annoying' alerts, then you should either get into a habit of constantly checking your phone. Which you would be if people were ringing you so often that you always miss calls or text messages.

    You're being rather lazy by expecting a feature in an already highly advanced phone to compensate for you not wanting to hit the wake button. If you are then unsatisfied with the way you have to wake your iPhone now and then maybe you should reconsider ever having it leave your person. This way there is no need for features that would cause stress for every one else around you.
  • IndyJaws - Saturday, October 22, 2011 - link

    Thank you for one one of the most thorough recaps/reviews I've seen on iOS 5 - excellent work!

    One thing I'll share with others at the risk of looking stupid...I couldn't figure out why iTunes kept launching on my 2 computers for no reason at all (phone was not connected at the time). I'd shut it down and it'd start back up, seemingly randomly, from time to time. Silly me, I had iTunes configured to sync to iCloud, but to still launch iTunes when the iPhone was connected. So...the wireless sync would kick in (at intervals much more frequently than I would have expected), causing iTunes to launch. Clearing that checkbox fixed the issue. Just an FYI in case anyone else runs into the same issue - I'm sure there are others, but not willing to admit it!
  • mashimaroo - Tuesday, November 1, 2011 - link

    Mirroring in the iphone 4s and ios5 makes doing presentations on my iphone so much easier. I can simply connect it with a vga connector or a/v connector to my aaxa p4 pico projector and im good to go. I can use whatever docs goodreader or keynote. i can even play games with it and stop staring at my tiny phone screen.

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