February 19, 2015 7:44 AM PT
Ah, Notification Center. I was among those who heralded the feature when it debuted in iOS 5. How great to have a place where all of your notifications reside together, so you don’t lose them when they disappear off your screen. It was a simpler time, in some ways.
For the purposes of this piece, let’s set aside the Today view, which has its own challenges and issues—I’m concerned mainly with the second Notifications pane, which, to me is a wasteland. The idea is good, and it’s even occasionally useful. But what it lacks is any sort of intelligence.
I’ve got pages upon pages of old notifications in here. In fact, I scrolled back to the bottom of my Notifications pane and found a 121-day-old notification. Who is that useful for? Why is it still there?
So why not give the ability to set an expiration date for notifications? Something akin to “keep this notification for an hour, a day, a week.” There are very few notifications—if any—that are still relevant to me a week later. And none, than I can think of, that should still be there after a month or two.
Moreover, triaging the Notifications screen is also kind of a pain. You can delete individual notifications, but it requires two taps—one swipe, and then a tap on the ‘x’ icon that appears. (Seriously? Why no long-swipe to delete, à la Mail.) Alternatively, you can remove all the notifications from a single app by tapping the ‘x’ button and then tapping “Clear.” But there’s no Clear All button to nuke all the notifications, which would definitely be handy at times.
I’d also like to see an option to organize the Notifications pane in simple reverse chronological order. The “Sort By Time” option in the Notifications section of Settings sort of provides this, but it still groups the notifications by app. So, if the App Store has the most recent notification but also two older notifications I have to see all of those before seeing the most recent notification from, say, Mail.
But the truth overlaying all of this is that the Notification pane just isn’t as necessary as it was in the early days of iOS, when all alerts were still modal dialog boxes. Since the advent of the Banner alert, I rarely miss notifications.1 I’ve finally trained myself to use the pull-down-to-interact feature to quickly respond to text messages (I rarely use it for other notifications), which means that I deal with the most pressing notifications as they arise; the rest can wait until I go find them. The notification system has improved by leaps and bounds since it was first introduced; it’s time that the Notifications pane live up to its valuable real estate.2
The only weird edge case I’ve run into (multiple times, weirdly enough!) is getting a notification at the exact moment I lock the phone. The phone buzzes as the screen goes off, so the notification doesn’t show up on the lock screen. Usually, however, I have context—such as being in a text message conversation with someone—and it’s easy enough to track it down, but sometimes they get lost. ↩
Pretty much all of my compliments can likewise be applied to notifications on OS X. I rarely look at the Notifications pane there, and when I do, it’s usually to clear it out because it’s full of things that are no longer applicable. ↩