I’ve been using an iPhone for over a decade. I received the original iPhone as a birthday present in 2008, and after just four months of use (without a case, of course), I dropped and cracked the screen. With the iPhone 3G about to launch, I decided to upgrade to that, and I’ve pretty much bought a new iPhone every year since — including the iPhone 14 Pro.
Before Apple added Notification Center in iOS 5, notifications were just alerts that would interrupt whatever it is you were doing, until you took action on it or dismissed it. And once you dismissed it, that was it — it vanished, never to be seen again, so you may have missed something important if you didn’t remember what it was.
Notification Center changed notifications on iOS. Instead of alerts, you got non-intrusive banners at the top of the screen, which would go away after a brief amount of time if no action was taken. You could bring up the Notification Center panel to see all of the notifications you received, and then take action on them or clear the notifications.
Though notifications have continued to evolve with each iOS release, it’s still far from perfect. Since I started work at Digital Trends, I’ve been testing out more Android phones. And in doing so, it’s opened up my eyes as to just how bad iOS notifications really are.
The (many) problems with iOS notifications
Every day, I get countless notifications from all sorts of apps that I depend on daily. I don’t allow notifications for every single app, but I am notified by a large number of them. I need notifications for phone calls, messages, certain emails, Microsoft Teams chat for work, social media (Instagram, Ivory for Mastodon, Facebook Messenger, etc.), my bank apps, certain games, a shared family album for photos of my daughter, medications, and more. These things are important to me, and therefore, I don’t want to miss a beat when they come up.
But oh my god — the way Apple handles notifications on iOS is just a nightmare.
Right now, notifications are on a per-app basis, where you can choose to have it show up immediately or in the scheduled summary. You also need to choose if notifications appear as a persistent or temporary banner, and whether you want them to show up on the lock screen, Notification Center, or banner, or all of the above. In the Notification Center, once you have a lot of notifications piling up that you haven’t been able to get to, it just becomes a giant mess. The below photo encapsulates that mess perfectly.
In the Notification Center, a notification is a banner, and they’re grouped by app and in chronological order. But if you have multiple notifications from one app, it becomes a stack, and you can’t view anything besides the most recent one. That is unless you tap the notification, which expands that stack into a list of more notification banners. You can swipe on a notification to clear it out or bring up some options to mute that app for a brief period, add it to the summary, jump to the notification settings, or simply turn them off.
There is an option to show a preview of each notification, and you can set that to always, only when unlocked, or never. But if you set it to “never,” then you just have a bunch of banners that simply say “Notification,” which is, uh, useless? I get you would want to have that enabled for privacy reasons, but the banner itself doesn’t get much smaller than if you do show the preview either, so it’s still a giant scrolling list of banners.
But the biggest problem with iOS notifications is the fact that they live in the Notification Center, which you need to manually swipe up on the lock screen to access. If you forget about a notification and don’t bring up Notification Center, then it’s pretty much just stuck in the notification abyss until you remember to check.
And in the iOS 16 stack style, which has the most recent notification come in from the bottom of the lock screen, it makes you falsely think you don’t have as many notifications as you do, because it starts from the bottom, and you need to swipe up to view more. It’s a non-sensical approach to notifications, and quite frankly, Apple needs to fix it. You can move notifications back to the top of your iOS 16 lock screen, but it still doesn’t feel quite right.
In the last few months of my journey back to Android phones, one thing has been made crystal clear: Notifications are handled so much better on Android compared to iOS. It’s also persistent and largely in one prominent place — my lock screen.
Notifications on Android are sorted by app and grouped together chronologically, which is to be expected. But if you have multiple notifications for one app, it doesn’t have the “stack” nonsense that Apple uses — instead, you get an agenda-like preview of the notification, and if there’s a lot, there’s a count that you can expand to view the full list.
You can even expand certain notifications, like email, to view more of a message before having to go into the app, which is useful. And if you accidentally cleared out a notification, Android has a notification history that you can view. I can’t tell you how often I have needed something like that on iOS because I accidentally swiped a notification away but actually did need to know what it was.
In the mobile industry, there’s a lot of copying each other, perhaps even improving upon the basis provided by the competition. But really, at this point, Apple could just copy what Android does, and I’d be happy. iOS notifications are nonsensical and need to be fixed.
Notifications are supposed to notify me and be clearly visible, rather than become hidden cards I’m just going to throw in a digital ditch and forget about. That’s how they feel on iOS right now, and I’m so ready for it to change.