What is Push Notification? And How Do I Use It?

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It seems every app we install these days asks about sending notifications.  Should we say yes to all of them?  Decline?  Be choosy?  Do we really want push notifications interrupting us throughout the day?  Luckily, there are several different types of notifications from a badge on the app icon to a message on the screen requiring your attention.   But while it is easy to turn notifications for an app on, it's not as easy to customize them.

A push notification is a way for an app to send you a message or to notify you without you actually opening the app.   The notification is "pushed" to you without you needing to do anything about it.  You can think of it like the app sending you a text message, although notifications can take on several different forms.

There is no longer a way to turn "off" notifications.  

Notifications are now dealt with on an app-by-app basis rather than a global switch.   This is an unfortunate change by Apple that makes it a little more difficult to manage notifications for those who do not want to be disturbed by constant messages from their apps.  Luckily, apps are required to ask permission before sending notifications, so a diligent user can just say no when asked by the app.  

Notifications come in many different forms.  The most unobtrusive is the Badge notification.  This notification puts a red badge on the app's icon with a number signifying the number of notifications.

 For example, the Mail app may have a red badge with the number four to alert you to four unread email messages.  

Push notifications can also send a message to the screen.  For example, if you have push notifications turned on for Facebook, you may receive a brief message on your iPad's screen when you are tagged in a photo.

 This message is called a "banner" notification and will pop up even if you are in another app at the time.  Banner notifications are a great way to keep up with what is happening in an app without actually interrupting what you are doing at the time.  They pop up and then fade away rather quickly.

But what if you want to be interrupted?  If you want to make sure you see every notification from Facebook, you can set the notifications to be "alerts".  These alerts will pop up on the screen and stay until you dismiss them.  

The opposite of alerts are to have no visual notification on your screen.  These messages will appear in the notification center, but they won't show on your screen while you are using the iPad. 

Unfortunately, just as there is no global on/off switch for notifications, there's no global settings for specific type of notification for all apps on the iPad.   You will need to customize these individually, which is why it may be a good idea to decline notifications for most apps and set them manually.  

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How to View Your Notifications 

If you missed a notification, you can view it in the notification center.  This is a special area of the iPad designed to give you important updates.

 You can open the notification center by swiping down from the very top edge of the iPad's screen.  The trick is to start at the very edge of the screen where the time is usually displayed.  As you move your finger down, the notification center will reveal itself.   By default, the notification center will be available on your lock screen, so you can check notifications without unlocking your iPad. 

You can also tell Siri to "read my notifications".  This is a great option if you find it difficult to read, but if you are regularly going to listen to notifications, you may want to further customize which apps show up in the notifications center.

When you have the notification center on the screen, you can clear a notification by swiping from right to left on it.  This will unveil the options to view the entire notification or "clear" it, which deletes it from your iPad.  You can also clear an entire group by tapping the "X" button above them.  Notifications are generally grouped by app and by day.  

You can exit the notification center by sliding it back up to the top of the screen or clicking the Home Button.

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How to Manage Notifications for an App

If you think push notifications on the iPad are a little confusing, you are not alone.  There is a lot of variety in the types of notifications you can receive and it is not really clear how to customize the notifications when you are first getting started with them.   Apple's guidelines recommend that all apps using notifications first ask the user permission to set up notifications for the app.  This is why many apps ask if they can send notifications when we first sign into the app.  However, the notifications are set up with default settings.

So how do we change them?

First, you will need to open the iPad's settings.  This is the app with the gears turning on it.  In settings, you will find "Notifications" in the left-side menu.  It is one of the first options just below Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.  

After you tap "Notifications", you will see a list of apps on your iPad that support push notifications.  Tap the app you want to manage to begin customizing how the notification will appear.

 You can turn the notification off completely by tapping the button next to "Allow Notifications.  You can also choose whether or not the app displays the badge app icon and whether or not the notification makes a sound.

The biggest confusion about this screen is choosing the alert style.  It is not readily apparent that you can choose between the three different alert styles (None, Banners, Alerts) at the bottom of this screen.  But if you pay attention, the circle around the alert style at the bottom will move when you click on the different styles.  It would be nice if there was a more visually apparent highlight for the style chosen, but Apple decided to be very subtle about it.

You can also change the notification style in the app's settings.  You can reach the full settings for individual apps by opening the iPad's Settings app and scrolling down the left-side menu.  All of the apps you have downloaded that have settings are listed at the bottom of this menu.  

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