What Are Push Notifications? And How Do I Use Them?

Just about every app these days wants to send them

A push notification is a way for apps to send you a message without you actually opening the app. The notification is "pushed" to you automatically. Think of it as the app sending you a text message, although notifications can take on several different forms. One common push notification looks like a red circle with a number in it. It often appears on the corner of the app's icon. It tells you the number of events or messages waiting for you within the app.

It seems just about every app we install these days asks about sending notifications, including games. But should we say yes to all of them? Do we really want push notifications interrupting us throughout the day?

Push notifications are a great way to keep track of what's happening on our iPhone or iPad, but they can also become a drain on our productivity. Notifications on an email app or a social media app like LinkedIn can be very important, but notifications on a casual game we're playing can easily become a distraction.

This guide applies to iOS 11+.

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 iPhone or iPad designed to give you important updates. You can open the notification center by swiping down from the very top edge of the device'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 iPhone or 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.

How to Customize or Turn off Notifications

There's no way to turn off all notifications. They're dealt with on an app-by-app basis. Most ask you for permission before turning push notifications on, but if you want to customize the type of notification you get, you need to go into the app's settings. Notifications come in many different forms. The default displays a message on the screen. The most unobtrusive is the badge notification, which is the red numbered circle at the corner of the app icon displaying. They can also be sent to the notification center without a pop-up message.

Here's how to customize push notifications on iOS:

  1. First, open the iPhone or iPad's Settings app.

  2. On the left-side menu, locate and select Notifications.

    Screenshot of the Notifications options in the iOS Settings app
  3. The Notification settings will list all apps on your device that are capable of sending push notifications. Scroll down and select the app whose notification style you want to change or that you want to turn notifications on or off.

    Screenshot depicting the notifications settings for Maps in iOS

This screen may seem a little overwhelming at first because of all of the options. If you just want to turn off notifications, select the on-off switch to the right of Allow Notifications. The other options allow you to fine-tune how you receive push notifications.  

  • Tap Sounds enables or disables the sound of the notification coming through on the device.
  • Badge App Icon is the red circle with the number in it that can be displayed on the app's icon. This is a great way to get alerts without being bothered by them.
  • Show on Lock Screen allows you to disable notifications when the device is locked, which is great if you want to disable sensitive information from being displayed to the world.
  • Show in History allows you to block the notification from showing up in the notification center. This means the app still pops up a notification or shows a number in the badge, but it won't show up in the list of notifications when you swipe down from the top of the screen.
  • Show as Banners allows you to toggle the pop-up message on or off. You can choose to show a banner as temporary, which displays for a few seconds then automatically hides, or you can choose persistent, which displays the notification until it's dismissed.  
  • Show Previews is an option just below the alerts. Push notifications can be "previewed," which basically means giving you more information and sometimes even the ability to respond without actually opening the app. For example, a text message can be previewed on the lock screen and you can reply to it without launching the Messages app. By default, an app's notification can be previewed even if the device is locked, but you can choose for previews to only show when unlocked or to never show.