Keep Up to Date By Using Notification Center on iPhone

Woman walking and checking smartphone notifications

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Notification Center is a tool built into the iOS that not only lets you keep up to date on what's happening in your day and on your phone, but also lets apps send you messages when they have important information for you. It debuted in iOS 5, but has undergone some big changes over the years. Learn how to use Notification Center on iOS 10, though many of the topics discussed apply to iOS 7 and up.

Notification Center on the Lock Screen

notification center in iOS 10

Notification Center is the place you go to find push notifications sent by apps. These notifications can be text messages, alerts about new voicemails, reminders of upcoming events, invitations to play games, or, depending on the apps you have installed, breaking news or sports scores and discount coupon offers.

The iPhone Notification Center Pull-Down

notification center in iOS 10

You can access Notification Center from anywhere on your iPhone: from the home screen, the lock screen, or from within any app. 

To access it, simply swipe down from the top of your device's screen. This can sometimes take a try or two to get the hang of, but once you get it, it'll become second nature. If you have trouble, try starting your swipe in the area next to the speaker/camera and swiping down onto the screen. (Basically, it's a version of Control Center that starts at the top instead of the bottom.)

To hide the Notification Center pull-down, just reverse the swipe gesture: swipe from the bottom of the screen to the top. You can also click the Home button when Notification Center is open to hide it.

How To Choose What Appears in Notification Center

Which alerts appear in Notification Center is controlled by your push notification settings. These are settings that you configure on an app-by-app basis and determine which apps can send you alerts and what style of alert they are. You can also configure which apps have alerts that can appear on the lock screen and which you need to have unlocked your phone to see (which is a smart privacy feature, if that's important to you).

Notifications on 3D Touch Screens

On devices with 3D Touch screens—just the iPhone 6S and 7 series models, as of this writing—Notification Center are even more useful. Just hard press any notification and you'll pop up a new window. For apps that support it, that window will include options for interacting with the notification without going to the app itself. For example:

  • Twitter—hard-pressing a notification of a tweet lets you reply to or like the tweet 
  • Mail—trash an email or mark it as read
  • Messages—respond to a text directly from the Notification Center.

Clearing/Deleting Notifications

If you want to remove alerts from Notification Center, you have two options:

  • Swipe right to left across a single notification and tap the Clear button
  • Tap the X icon above a group of notifications, and then tap the Clear button, to clear all notifications from a given day.

The Widget View in iPhone Notification Center

The today view in iOS 10's notification center

There's a second, even-more-useful screen in Notification Center: the Widget screen.

Apps can now support what are called Notification Center widgets—essentially mini versions of the apps that live in Notification Center and provide information and limited functionality from the app. They're a great way to provide more information and activity options without having to go to the app itself.

To access this view, pull down Notification Center and then swipe left to right. Here, you'll see the day and date and then, depending on what version of the iOS you're running, either some built-in options or your widgets.

In iOS 10, you'll see whatever widgets you've configured. In iOS 7-9, you'll see both widgets and a few built-in features, including:

  • Day/Date/Weather—The day of the week and month and date, followed by a weather forecast for your area (this assumes that you've got GPS turned on to allow your device to figure out where you are).
  • Drive-Time Estimate—One really neat feature of this screen is that it can tell you how long it will take you to drive to work or school (in the screenshot, notice the section that reads "Right now, it would take you about 1 hour 2 minutes to drive to Boston.").
  • In order to get that kind of information, you need to have Frequent Locations turned on the Location Services settings. This setting lets your phone observe your behavior and learn your schedule. For instance, my phone has noticed that I go to Boston every morning for work and is smart enough to know that I'm probably going to do that today and might want information about the commute. 
  • The Day's Events—After that section, you'll see your calendar of events for the day. Events will only display if you're using the built-in iOS Calendar app. Third-party calendar apps are not allowed to show events there as of this writing. If you want to learn more about an event, tap it and you'll be taken to the Calendar app.
  • Tomorrow's Events—You'll also get a preview of tomorrow, with a listing of how many events you have and when the first one is scheduled to begin.

Adding Widgets to Notification Center

To make Notification Center more useful, you should add widgets to it.