How to Organize Your iOS 5 Notifications

The notification system on the iPhone has been made fun of for years now, and many people considered it broken because it wasn’t as cool as the alternatives. Admittedly, I fell into this camp myself, mostly because I was interrupted by a text message too many times while playing Infinity Blade, causing me to get cut in the neck and die. The system needed to change, and it did. Thankfully.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped people from continuing to complain, which puts us in the position we are today. Now we have “too many” options for our notifications, and some people are even finding them to be too confusing to work. In reality though, the new notification system in iOS 5 is a step above the previous model, it just takes a few tweaks to get things perfect. Want to find out what they are? I’ll tell you after the jump.

Getting Down the Basics

Before you can change your notifications, you’ve got to find out where they are. To start messing around with them, just go to Settings > Notifications and you’ll see a list of your apps that looks just like this:

Here are all of your settings in one convenient place.

Here are all of your settings in one convenient place.

This is where it all begins, and how you determine what apps appear in the Notification Center. For those that aren’t quite sure, the Notification Center is triggered when you swipe down from the top center area of your screen. By default, it displays a few different apps, Weather and Stocks, but there are additional options as well which we’ll get into next.

Why Get Notified?

In my case, I like to use the Notification Center quite frequently just to check the weather, or see what kind of notices I have on tap. But from the factory, the Notification Center can get pretty cluttered with miscellaneous crap that you’ll either never use or don’t want to see on a regular basis. Cleaning it up is a matter of figuring out what you want to use the center for. In my case, I want it as free and uncluttered as possible, and only to keep things on task — no Angry Birds notices in here, no thanks.

My personal Notification Center

My personal Notification Center

This is, of course, a personal preference, and you may prefer that your games are the only thing in your Notification Center, and that’s fine. Regardless, you’ve still got to clean things up before you can proceed forward.

The Notifications setting section shows you first what apps are in the center, and then what ones aren’t. To change that, you click on the app and then decide what you want to do.

The Settings Themselves

OK, so you’ve picked an app and now you’re ready to setup how you want to be notified. You have a lot of options.

Before, you had too little choices. Now you have a lot.

Before, you had too little choices. Now you have a lot.

Up top is a slider to determine if you want the app to even show up in the Notification Center in the first place. Again, I prefer to keep only my important things in there, but you may have different priorities. If you’re like me, just slide that slider to Off for Angry Birds, and On for OmniFocus.

Below that is an option to show how many items you want to show in the center. Again, you can keep it simple, or add as much as you want. Just remember that the notification center needs to be manually cleared every time, so don’t stack it up with things unless it’s necessary.

Alert Settings

This is probably the most important part of the whole setup, and something you should consider pretty heavily for each app. Here’s how it breaks down:


The simplest setting of all. If you don’t want any kind of visual alert on your screen when something comes up, then select this option. This will allow you to use your phone without interruptions, but on the flip side, if you don’t want to be notified of something, you may just want to move that app out of the Notification Center in the first place.


This is my main setting on almost every application on my iPhone. It’s clean, the animation looks cool and it gives me a visual notice whenever something has changed, but it doesn’t require me to take any kind of action before I move on. This is my favorite feature of the system.


You know these as the same old alerts that you had on your iPhone before iOS 5 came along. These are the blocks that pop up in the middle of the screen and require you to accept or decline the notice before doing anything else. I personally don’t use these anymore, but if I had an app that was so important to me that I needed it to stop me from what I was previously doing, this is what I’d choose.

Icons, Sounds and More

You know that little badge that pops up on your email and tells you how many messages you have? For me, that’s a great way to tell how many emails I need to address during the day. But with Foursquare, Twitter or Facebook, I just don’t care how many notifications I have, and prior to iOS 5, it would just clutter up my screen. Now, not so much.

To turn it off, just click the slider. Now you don’t have that badge on every app in your library, just the ones that are important to you. For me, that’s Mail, Phone and Messages, and that’s it. You can change yours however you like.

There are additional options as well, but they vary depending on the app. You can turn sounds on or off, see a preview or adjust how often the alert repeats. The last one though, is pretty consistent across the apps, and is one of the more popular options.

If you want to view a notification on your lock screen whenever you have an alert, then adjust the slider for View in Lock Screen. It looks like this:

The lock screen showing two notifications.

The lock screen showing two notifications.

I love the lock screen option, but I find that the same apps I use with Banners are the same ones I use in the lock screen. And in case you didn’t know, you can slide one of those icons to unlock the iPhone and open that application, which is very handy indeed.

Final Thoughts

The new notification system might not be perfect, but it’s the best version of it that we have so far, and I’m a fan. I’m sure things will be tweaked in the coming versions of iOS, but until they do, you can maximize your iPhone’s usage with just a few tweaks.

Now all you have to do is figure out how you want to be notified.